Later that night (not the day after)

The man who checks tickets and IDs last at the Indianapolis airport — that is, right before you put your shoes on a conveyor belt and walk through a device that beeps if you’re part metal — is a jovial sort, as one would expect you would have to be if your job consisted of briefly interacting with thousands of people each day.

He told me, as I handed him my materials, that I was lucky to be getting out. Before I could reply he explained to me that a massive ice storm was headed to Indy. He’d watched the radar on the Weather Channel, and the storm was shaped like a triangle with the point stabbing this fair city and promising a miserable few days of travel just when so many people had so many places to go.

I smiled and scanned for an open lane. If I’d had the time, I would have told him that I’m not lucky to be getting out. I’m lucky to be getting home.

That was the overwhelming feeling I had after Indiana lost to Northeastern: that the kids would be lucky to get a day or two away from it all. Simply put, they mustered very little desire on Monday night. And so they were doomed. Really, it was a first: Indiana had lost only to teams that could outclass it in some tangible way. The Hoosiers hadn’t yet lost because of anything close to resembling a lack of effort.

We all wondered how they would come out of a nine-game break, one that began after Kentucky tamped out the Hoosiers with a furious early run. There was an interesting dichotomy to the week: while the players took finals to show their professors how much they had learned, they got back into coach Tom Crean’s classroom for the first time since games began. They had a few days to concentrate on themselves and not whatever gameplan Crean had crafted for the next opponent.

During a 12-3 run to begin the game, those of us not privy to practice had to assume that the Hoosiers had flourished last week. That, having weathered a tough early schedule and emerged a .500 ball club, they had come to understand that hard work pays off and had therefore pushed to meet every one of Crean’s challenges, which were no doubt numerous.

Then Northeastern methodically pulled ahead simply by avoiding unsteadiness. The Huskies were far from flawless. They had neither a prolific offense nor a truly stifling defense (though it was certainly good.) They just soldiered on, as some of Indiana’s players passed up good shots and others lofted bad ones in the general direction of the rim.

Later — actually almost a full 45 minutes after the final buzzer — Crean attributed the loss to lack of focus and will, and said that he’d seen it coming in practice. And he said some variation of the general theme for the year, which is that he didn’t have an answer for why it had gone the way it had gone. Nobody did, he said, because nobody has been through it before with a team this young.

It is important to empathize with the people you cover, I think, because only then can you hope to share the experience with readers. Though we aren’t able to watch practice (I wish we were, given the historic nature of the season and the desire of many fans to be able to follow the season as a growing experience instead of a quest for wins as they usually would) and are generally kept away from having any genuine interaction with the players, it is impossible not to feel the weight of the season. There’s been so many changes of direction, with each turn leading to what surely must be the right path until it, too, curves sharply or dead-ends completely. So many bursts forward up over the mountain and so many mountains after the mountains.

I didn’t bother going to sleep after the game, knowing I’d have to get in the car at 4 a.m. to head to the airport. And so the game replayed in my head. But all my thought went for nothing (which I suppose is not unusual); I couldn’t figure it out, couldn’t develop a theory, couldn’t come up with questions I’d ask Tom Crean at the next press conference. All I could think was that the players were lucky to have a few days to step away, maybe even to get home.

Minutes ago, Malik Story and Jeremiah Rivers walked through the B terminal. Upon reaching his gate, Story turned to Rivers and extended his hand, and Rivers met it with his. He held on for a second without breaking stride and said nothing. He just kept on walking.

19 comments

  1. I think we need to start asking Tom Crean why he isn’t benching players after making foolish passes. There at least needs to be a slap in the wrist when a player continues to throw the ball away… Let’s not baby these guys just because they’re freshman or walk-ons or juco transfers.

  2. Korman – did you boo Malik Story and Jeremiah Rivers when you saw them at the airport for their lack of hustle? We aren’t looking for basketball works of art from this group just for them to leave everything they have on the floor. We’ve lowered the expectations for this team but when they don’t reach those very low expectations we need to start bringing the hard questions to Crean.

  3. I’m not saying let Crean completely off the hook, but look at the team he has to work with!! There are like 5 walk-ons on the team, some of whom see playing time, as well as a boatload of freshmen and transfer players. There aren’t too many D2 teams that have to deal with this kind of adversity.

    So while I have to admit, getting beaten by Northeastern of all teams, at home, is definitaly a shot in the foot, I can’t say that I’m that upset… This is what we signed up for!! So far we’ve beaten the teams it looked like we were gonna beat, but we aren’t gonna win them all.

    I mean seriously.. This team is a rag-tag group. Why do you think Crean is loading up for next year? He’s getting the right guys to fit his system, not just the scraps that are left over.. I’ll save my judegement for a year or two from now, when there will be no excuse for a loss like this.

  4. Don’t be too concerned about not being able to “figure it out”, Chris. It’s going to be that kind of year. Regards lack of a theory, Hutchens’ article in the Star this morning was interesting in that the Hoosier players were criticized for “not playing with a sense of urgency” (by CTC) and for “being in too much of a hurry” (by Hutchens) – remember that this was in the same article. Next year will be better, but it would be nice to be able to expect some stability from experienced players to ease the normal learning curve that next year’s freshmen will have. Appears to me that Rivers has become a critically important player for next year.

  5. While waiting for this team – and subsequent men’s teams – to develop, why don’t you support the IU women’s team, which has a seven-game winning streak going? Tickets are never a problem.

  6. Steve O is exactly right. Most D2 teams have more experience and as much talent. If it weren’t for Pritchard and Dumes we’d be 0-11. I can’t wait for this season to be over; I don’t even want to watch the Big Ten season.

  7. Go to a womens basketball game? Are you kidding? You couldn’t pay me to go sit through that bore, let alone park and walk to it. Why do they even have a womens team? That’s about as funny as asking me to pay hundreds of dollars to go watch the mens football…’ahem’…team.

  8. IU is not going to impress anyone this year, meanwhile B-Town has the states #1 ranked (11th nationally) high school team. This is the team I’m following this year, I’ll catch IU’s scores and wait for next years team. They are just to painful to watch so far.

  9. Aruss

    Jeremiah Rivers didn’t leave the bench last night. He won’t the entire year. I doubt “booing him for his lack of hustle” would have much effect.

  10. Hey Mike C, who do you suggest Crean put into the game? The entire team struggles with turnovers (as expected).

  11. This year is a try out for next years team! CK you been reading porno titles? Later on at night! lol jk buddy

  12. Aruss reminds me of the folks that praise W and curse Obama for not doing enough. In fact, I’m confident he’s in that group.

  13. Fire,
    Who do you suppose IU gets in place of Crean…Davis? O wait I have a better pick…Sampson. Go take a hike with the idea of firing Crean. He’s the best IU could ever hope for.

  14. Hey Jimmy: I think Coach needs to keep filtering through the players. I know they will all make turnovers — but if they start getting benched they may think twice for trying to make some of those terrible post entry passes when they’re put back in. Dumes and VJ3 made so many bad passes I started to get queasy.

  15. Unbelievable! The boo birds are out in force booing TC for effort, decisions, personnel choices, poor play — you name it. We are LUCKY to have this guy and the boo birds don’t even know it. What in the h— do you expect? It’s already been elaborated on as to what we have to put on the floor this season and with few exceptions they have played FOR him and not for themselves, (think last year except for DJ, KT, and BF)they listen, they try to execute, they play team ball, and they play with enthusiasm. If you want to knock the players and coach, ask yourselves — where was the crowd Monday? Does REAL team support only come when we’re ahead or does it come just because we’re IU? I will tell you this and tell you all again, there will be times when we will be blown out — and yes, we might get blown out by a smaller school — but we are still learning and still trying to assimilate so much — and there will be nights just like that. That team was no slouch and they showed it. If you don’t believe we can get blown out by a “smaller” school, think about the pig farmers and Wofford last year. It happens, and all the moaning in the world won’t make one bit of difference. I say get with the program and support it or just go suck your thumb. There will be better days ahead but I for one am just going to try to enjoy THESE days.

  16. I am willing to wait till next to… watch again. I can’t even watch more than a few minutes. I wonder if during the B-10 part of the season they will simply have dead air @ commercial breaks for lack of advertisers.

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