Indiana Basketball fans are far saner than Michigan Football fans.
That false equivalence between two rabid fanbases has been made many times as both programs have failed for many years to live up to expectations.
In Ann Arbor, fans crave a win against Ohio State and a return to national prominence. Year after year, they believe the Wolverines will finally find a way to win a Big 10 Championship and earn its first trip to the College Football Playoff. They refuse to look at reality and understand their dream will never happen unless Columbus catches fire or is sucked into the center of the Earth.
They refuse to adjust their target toward what can be accomplished.
Indiana fans get it. They understand the Hoosiers road back to the Final Four or a sixth banner is beyond the program’s current grasp. The last Final Four came in 2002 and the fifth banner was hung after the 1987 miracle run to New Orleans. Winning an occasional Big 10 title is possible as we saw in 2013 and 2016, but a National Championship is a pipe dream.
No one in Bloomington believes Archie Miller is the second coming of Bob Knight, and they are right. In his third year in Bloomington, Miller has improved recruiting but not results. Maybe the forward evolution of Indiana Basketball will show itself tonight as the Hoosiers play their first bonafide opponent of the season.
Regardless of tonight’s result, Indiana fans would be thrilled with a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. They have adapted to repeated disappointment.
Michigan fans covet a championship the Wolverines will never win. If the Hoosiers are one of 68 teams invited to the March Madness party, there will be great rejoicing in Bloomington.
I’m not sure which group is to be applauded more enthusiastically – those in Michigan who hold that program accountable toward an impossible vision of greatness; or IU fans who are willing to settle for being one of 68.
It’s sad that Indiana has become an ordinary college basketball program, but the evidence is impossible to ignore. The culture at IU began degrading in the mid-1990s, and nothing has been done to replace it. Coaches like Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson and Tom Crean have come and gone, but none has built a culture that brought consistent success.
It’s possible that Miller will be the guy to do the job, but visual evidence after two years and seven games suggests he has extended the Crean dogma of indifference to doing what it takes to win. Player development seen at other programs hasn’t shown itself with the Hoosiers. Indiana plays basketball instead of competing. That may be changing, but it’s been hard to evaluate as the Hoosiers meandered successfully through a November schedule filled with tomato cans.
Again, maybe tonight’s game against Florida State signals a change. Maybe the Hoosiers sweeping Michigan State last year foreshadowed more consistent success. Maybe Indiana finally cycling out of the players Crean recruited to Bloomington will allow IU to rise from the ashes of entrenched adequacy.
That’s a lot of maybes.
And maybe Indiana fans will adjust their dreams beyond what used to be taken for granted when (if) the Hoosiers ascend from OK to good.
At Michigan, they aren’t smart enough to know and accept who and what they are. Indiana is different. Fans here are plenty aware of their standing for the past three seasons among college basketball’s elite – on the outside of a crowded room of 68 teams.