Indiana going to the NIT, and fans dazed by decade and a half of mediocrity

Indiana walked off the floor last night unable to win a second game in the Big 10 Tourney for the 14th straight season.

So now Indiana fans look ahead to Selection Sunday to find out where the Hoosiers will play in the NIT.

After the false promise built on the spindly legs of early season victories against Kansas and North Carolina, the Hoosiers backtracked into a season where on-court confusion was such a consistent presence, it appeared to be part of the game plan.

After last night’s loss to Wisconsin in the quarters of the Big 10 Tournament, Indiana’s record for the 2016-2017 season against teams ranked in the top 200 by Ken Pomeroy dropped to 10-15.

The loss last night should not have come as a surprise to anyone, as Indiana has won twice in the 20 Big 10 Tourneys just two times – both under Mike Davis (2001, 2003).  2001, 2003, 2006, and 2013 were the only times the Hoosiers played on Saturday in the event.

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Crean’s record in the tourney improved to 4-9 by winning and losing one, while Indiana broke a tie with Penn State for the 11th best all-time record in the tourney.  The Hoosiers now own 11th all by themselves with a 12-20 mark.

I could go on with an extended litany of reasons the Big 10 Tourney is an unholy event that is dreaded like no other for Indiana fans, but why belabor the obvious.  For whatever reason, and regardless of the coach, the Hoosiers suck at this annual midwestern (sort of) celebration of hoops.

Let me just add this one note.  If Indiana earned a double bye and won each tournament and Michigan State won only one game per tourney, it would take the Hoosiers eight years to catch Sparty as the all time leader in wins.

Oh boy.

This will be the Hoosiers fourth trip to the NIT, and the first in 12 years.  They won the event in 1979 in a thrilling 53-52 final against Purdue at Madison Square Garden.  Indiana lost a final against Reggie Miller’s UCLA team in 1985.  IU lost in the first round in both 1972 and 2005.

Indiana fans remember the NIT game 12 years ago against Vanderbilt, not for anything that happened on the court, but for the thousands of empty seats at Assembly Hall left unfilled by apathetic fans who decided their time, money, and energy were better invested somewhere else.

That lack of a crowd was the last straw for IU’s athletic administration who knew nothing about basketball, but were smart enough to understand empty seats equals a lack of passion and that equates to a lack of dollars from well-heeled donors.

It took IU AD Rick Greenspan another year to make the change from coach Mike Davis to Kelvin Sampson, but the writing was on the wall after that loss to Vanderbilt.

Whatever Indiana’s fate in the NIT draw, and they are going to the NIT, as here is no chance the #41 team in the country as ranked by Pomeroy is going to be excluded, I hope the seats are filled at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

The players work hard, and playing what might be their final game together in front of empty chairs and bleachers would be a shame.

Regardless of what happens from this point forward, there is no denying these facts about IU hoops over the last 15 years:

  • Compiled an overall record of 281-207, and a Big 10 record or 129-131.
  • Qualified for eight NCAA Tournaments.
  • Qualified for two NITs.
  • Failed to qualify for any either the NCAA or NIT five times.
  • Never advanced beyond Sweet 16 in NCAA or NIT.
  • Played in four Big 10 Tourney semifinals (2001, 2003, 2006, 2013).
  • Compiled an 8-15 record in the Big 10 Tourney (6-14 over last 14 years).
  • Two Big 10 regular season championships.

Yes, three of the seasons right in the middle of that 15 year span were rebuilding years we tend to forgive because putting Humpty Hoosier back together again was quite a process, but they exist.

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Charles Dickens began his “A Tale of Two Cities” by writing, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Let’s hope nothing of the last 15 years represents the best of times for Indiana fans, but every bit of the worst.

Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-7p, and writes about Indiana sports at

7 thoughts on “Indiana going to the NIT, and fans dazed by decade and a half of mediocrity

  1. Steve

    I agree with everything you say except the mediocrity needs to be extended back to 1995 when IU started a 7 year streak of first and second round losses in the NCAA. Since that year, IU has only finished the season in the AP rankings 6 times. So in reality, that is 23 years of mediocrity and not just 15. And that includes the last 6 years of the Bob Knight era.

    IU and its fans need to decide what kind of program it wants. Do they want a Kentucky, Duke, NC, Kansas program that brings in big talent but most of the players leave early and may or not be students or a Villanova, Butler, Wisconsin type program that brings in 4 year players and have occasional years of success. Remember, Butler has never won it and Wisconsin won it once in 1941. I’m not including Duke or Michigan State in the comparison because their programs are so closely tied to a single coach, we have no idea what they will be like when their respective coaches leave.

  2. coachv

    since there is nowhere to leave a reply on your post about crean vs. heckler, i will have to do it here. i couldn’t agree less with your take on how crean represented himself as a great leader of young men because of his reaction.

    apparently, crean wants to see the guy get ejected, even though crean is heading to the locker room and will never see the guy for the rest of his life. the heckler did not curse. he is half right, crean did not ruin the program. the guy paid his hard earned and has the right to voice his opinion. any other coach would have just kept walking and ignored the comment. i suppose, kent, you would advocate every fan who yells “you stink!” at a game to a player, ref, or coach be thrown out of the arena. frankly, it makes crean look like a thin-skinned wussy who needs to remember this when confronted by angry fans: “that’s what the money is for”.

    is it legal to throw a fan out who says something you don’t like? is crean the final word on who gets to stay and who goes? have you never yelled at someone at a game? what words exactly crossed the line for you?

    i coached 20 years and got yelled at plenty. comes with the territory. man up and grow a pair.

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      I don’t know that the guy was tossed, just that Crean avoided an inappropriate and ill-tempered response. I have yelled at all kinds of people in gyms, and my Dad once hit a referee in the back with an unlit cigar. I am no stranger to silliness.

  3. Fuzzyone

    I agree with most of what Kent says. About going / not going to the big dance…..I read where Wisconsin has been like 17 years in row, Duke’s like that, Kentucky’s like that, lots of other schools have consecutive strings of years to the big Dance. Very depressing to a fan that IU has become what it is. They lost players when they canned BK, lost players and respect with some other moves. Right now they get an occasional gem of player every once in a while but really ……can you tell me why a top player from Indiana would want to play for IU? Do they believe IU has a top tier coach? Will IU’s coach make them better players? Will IU surround they with high level talent? Every year UK, Duke, UNC, Kansas and other snag the very top players. Why can’t IU get any of these players?

  4. E

    Very disturbing facts the last 15 years for IU fans. Hard to dismiss that they are becoming more and more irrelevant. They need to clean house, AD and Crean. If IU can’t hire a top tier coach (better open up purse strings to get one), then find a fundamental young up-and-comer. Even if it means a step back before moving forward, better than wading in mediocrity. The new coach will need to determine if you recruit one-and-done’s or 4-year players. The current coaching staff is mired in the middle, with no apparent player development skills.

    The trustees need to act quickly or plan on continuing to lose the fan base and prepare for empty seats. Unfortunately I believe they will keep Crean another year because they moved the game from home not to see an empty stadium.

  5. Matt Amstutz

    This NIT thing would have been the perfect opportunity to host the game somewhere in Indiana that doesn’t get to see IU play much….Fort Wayne, Evansville, South Bend, etc. Most of the attendance would be cheering like crazy for the team because its one of the few opportunities to see them in person.

    But we accepted a true road game against a team that is good at home.


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