A fanbase that went into the 2016-17 season with high hopes exited that same season with high hopes, but for a very different reason. In between those two points was an up and down exhibition of what basketball can look like when things are going well, and the exact opposite end of that spectrum. Case in point: the last game of Indiana’s season paired them against another team that, earlier in the year, had defeated eventual national champion North Carolina, that being eventual NIT runner-up Georgia Tech. Indiana’s last lead of the game came at the 13 minute mark of the second half, as the Hoosiers went cold from the field and let the game get back away from them as it had been early. Eleven days after it all fell apart, Dayton’s Archie Miller was announced as the 29th head coach of the Hoosiers. But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves now.
Where it started: Holding on in Hawaii
Indiana opened the season as defending Big Ten Champions(!) in the Armed Forces Classic against the #3 ranked Kansas Jayhawks. The game went to overtime, with Indiana finally prevailing 103-99 against a squad that would go on to be a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The first sign of potential trouble on the horizon came just three games later, when Indiana traveled to Fort Wayne and....lost. To IPFW. A team that wouldn’t even be able to get out of the Summit League tournament unscathed. A few more cupcakes bookending the UNC triumph soothed the natives for a bit, but there was a strange vibe around the program at this point. There were times when the team just looked like they hadn’t played together before, and those were during the wins. Yet another Crossroads Classic loss to Butler set the questions loose, and began applying some heat to Tom Crean’s chair.
Big Ten Season: The Roller Coaster Ride From Hell
If you had asked most Indiana fans before the season about how the Nebraska game would go, the most pessimistic of them would still probably have voiced cautious optimism about the game. First conference game, three days before the New Year, players might get caught looking ahead to Louisville, but it’s at Assembly Hall, so it should still be fine, right?
Wrong. The Huskers won, an inexplicable occurrence at the time. Follow that up with a not terribly close game against Louisville, and a slightly better though still unsuccessful performance against Wisconsin, and suddenly you’ve got a throughly annoyed fanbase. A four wins in five games stretch with the fifth game being a close loss to Maryland eased some of the concerns, but then a blowout loss at Michigan sent the Hoosiers careening into a stretch of utter misery so bad, even the lone win against Penn State came at a high price (OG Anunoby’s season). Included in this stretch: five games where Indiana failed to break 65 points (and one where they failed to break 60). Only twice did Indiana score 90+ points; the Iowa loss, and the Penn State triple overtime(!) game. The Hoosiers pulled up just in time to make thing look interesting come Big Ten Tournament time, but Wisconsin put a stop to that and sealed Indiana’s NIT fate.
The Postseason: Where Bad Gets Worse...
Indiana was invited to host a game in the NIT, as the third seed against six seed Georgia Tech. Indiana accepted the bid, but declined what was apparently their option to host the game. The reason initially cited by the TV experts was that Assembly Hall was unavailable for the date required, a reasonable and logical explanation...if it had been true. Once the IU athletic department had come out and said that was not the reason why Indiana would not be hosting, rumors began flying. First, spring break was mentioned as why Indiana wouldn’t be hosting, until someone did the math and realized that every other school on spring break during the first weekend of the NIT scheduled to host their game would be doing so. Slowly, the explanations that would make IU look reasonable for declining dried up until only one conclusion remained: the athletic department didn’t want the team playing a home game in front of a crowd that might be hostile to both team and coach. So, instead of playing in Bloomington, Georgia Tech hosted the contest, and their coach made sure the arena was packed with rowdy, raucous Tech students.
Less than 24 hours after the loss, as the NCAA tournament was preparing to tip off the round of 64, Indiana announced that Tom Crean had been let go as head coach. This prompted a flurry of opinions over who should be Crean’s replacement, including former Indiana basketball players, current NBA coaches, and pretty much anyone and everyone coaching in the NCAA tournament at the time. In the end, Archie Miller got the call.
Now, Indiana looks ahead to 2017-18, but what the roster will look like is very much up in the air. OG Anunoby is gone for the NBA, and James Blackmon Jr., Thomas Bryant, and Robert Johnson are all considering their options. Colin Hartman plans on being back for one more ride, and Juwan Morgan has already affirmed his intention to return, but beyond them, nothing is certain. College basketball never is.