Indiana Football and Indiana Basketball are engaged in a rare tug of war for the hearts and minds of Hoosiers everywhere, and Archie Miller’s team is losing to Tom Allen. If you needed any confirmation that 2020 is one of the strangest years ever, that should suffice.
Indiana Basketball gets rolling tomorrow night against Tennessee Tech at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall – COVID willing – but IU alums are spending more time and effort re-hashing the loss to Ohio State than discussing prospects for the basketball program in Miller’s fourth season.
This is the year the switch is supposed to flip and IU assumes its rightful spot atop the Big 10 and inside the ropes of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. Sure, the Hoosiers would likely have made it to the Big Dance last March if not for the COVID shutdown, but without a winning record in the Big 10.
The Hoosiers should be better this season, returning Trayce Jackson-Davis, Rob Phinisee, and Joey Brunk among others, and adding Khristian Lander, Anthony Leal, and Trey Galloway. Those who departed the program – Devonte Green and De’Ron Davis – were inconsistent contributors. Despite the perceived upgrade in talent and maturity, I’m not thinking much about Indiana Basketball, and that is a problem.
It’s clear that recruits aren’t thinking much about IU either. After a nice run to attract the state’s best within Indiana’s borders, Miller lost the battle for nationally ranked forwards Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman. To make matters worse, both committed to Purdue. Yesterday, Mason Miller decided Creighton was a better fit than Indiana. That leaves Logan Duncomb as the current lone commit for the class of 2021.
Where high school students choose to attend college is none of my business, so Miller, Furst, and Kaufman choosing to play and study elsewhere is not a critical loss in my world. If someone wants to come to IU – great. If they choose another program/school – I wish them happiness. But their decisions shows contempt for what Archie has built.
Combine those losses with Bruiser Flint opting to bounce from Bloomington to Lexington, of all places, and it’s even a little tougher to embrace the concept that IU Basketball is still in growth mode. If this is as good as it gets for hoops and the football team keeps winning, sellouts may become more routine at Memorial Stadium than Assembly Hall.
It feels as though Indiana Basketball has been on a treadmill for the better part of 20 years, and we’ve finally run through the soles of our shoes. I can’t speak to the mindset of those who have never experienced the kind of success that used to occur with regularity (NCAA Titles in 1976, 1981, and 1987, and 11 conference championships in 24 years), but maintaining enthusiasm can only be harder for those younger than 33 who have never been alive for a meaningful banner hanging.
Not to rub salt in the wounds of Hoosiers, but here are some benchmarks that define the entrenched ordinariness of what was once a proud program with proudly arrogant fans:
- Last time IU was ranked in the top 20 – December 26, 2016
- Last time IU posted a winning Big 10 record – 2016
- Last time IU had a top 10 recruiting class – (#10) 2018
- Last time IU played in the NCAA Tournament – March 25, 2016
- Last time IU played in a Final Four – 2002
- Last time IU won a National Championship – 1987
When I talk to people outside the ideological sphere shared by Indiana fans, I am told two things – re-building the Indiana culture post Tom Crean is going to take a lot of time, and expectations need to be adjusted away from what Indiana was (elite) toward what Indiana is (middle of the Big 10 pack). I get the patience thing. There was no culture of basketball under Crean – just some groups with talent and others without it.
I draw the line at adjusting expectations. Contending for National Championships while winning Big 10 titles WAS, IS, and SHOULD ALWAYS BE the expectation. There is no reason Indiana should not be a superior program to Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, but here we are on the cusp of another season, and those programs ranked in the top 10 while Indiana is fifth among those “also receiving votes.”
It’s not in my DNA to be ambivalent about Indiana Basketball, but if this season isn’t a stark improvement over the last four years, my daily IU obsession could shift from basketball to football.
I’ll watch the Hoosiers tomorrow night and every night they play, but this will be a season of serious and (mostly) sober evaluation. In the absence of a great recruiting class and with potential pro’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Khristian Lander, this might be the best chance for what used to be routine success in Bloomington.
Style of play changes. Coaches change. Even Assembly Hall changes. The passion for IU Basketball among fans hasn’t changed – yet.