I’ve been watching Indiana basketball for a long time. I’ve been watching Indiana basketball up close since the beginning of the Tom Crean era. I can’t remember being more embarrassed of Indiana basketball than I was on Thursday night.
Michigan 90, Indiana 60. Seriously?
Bloomington, we have a problem. A serious problem. And let me shock you by agreeing with Dan Dakich: It’s not the coach.
This team has no leader, has no pride. We know Tom Crean is a leader, we know Tom Crean has pride. But beyond a certain point, it doesn’t matter how much pride he exudes to his players — if his players don’t exude the same pride, there’s nothing else the coach can do.
At some point on Thursday night, somebody on this Indiana team should have been so embarrassed and angry that they spoke up to their teammates and did something about it. When an average Michigan team is scoring on you at will, it should make you so angry that you will refuse to allow your man to score again.
That never happened with this team, not the leadership part and not the defense part. None of it. Look, Michigan shot out of its minds, making shots it doesn’t normally make. But that happens, and when it does, the good teams have a leader that calms their teammates down and helps them to weather the storm.
Indiana didn’t weather the storm. The Hoosiers didn’t board up the windows and button down they hatch. They stood out in the middle of a hurricane, motionless and carefree, and got eaten up by the storm.
I’ve seen a lot of pathetic things through the years, but I can’t remember seeing such a lifeless effort from an Indiana team. These kids are lucky enough to play at one of the best programs in the country with a strong, passionate fan base that lives and dies with them. They always talk about playing for the name on the front of the uniform and not the back, but I didn’t see that on Thursday night. Not at all.
James Blackmon Jr. attempted a grand total of three shots in 33 minutes, essentially refusing to battle with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. He faced guarded you all over the court … so what? You’re the best scorer on this team and just dominated Penn State and Michigan State. Guess what: Teams are going to guard you. Instead of embracing that, you’re just going to quit and let them win?
Thomas Bryant was asked after Thursday night’s game what it made him think to look up and see the final score.
“It was just a good win for them,” Bryant replied.
No, Thomas, that is not the answer of a competitor. Take some pride in yourself and your team and tell it like it really is. I can tell you what I’d say if I had just lost by 30 to a team like Michigan:
“We got our a**** beat. I’m embarrassed, we’re all embarrassed, and I am going to do everything I can do to guarantee that this never happens again.”
This has been a failure of a season for Bryant, and not just because his numbers are down. Bryant was supposed to be this team’s emotional leader in Yogi Ferrell‘s absence. He was supposed to be the guy that picked his guys up when they got hit with a barrage of 3-pointers. He was supposed to help this team weather the storm.
Instead, Bryant has spent much of the season whining and complaining, not to his teammates but to the officials. He throws his arms up in disbelief after almost every play, and I absolutely can’t stand to watch it anymore.
Thomas, stop whining. Just stop it. Use that time to race back on defense. Use that mental energy to motivate your teammates, to become the leader this team needs you to be. Whining about officiating over and over is cancerous, especially on a young team.
Indiana isn’t losing games because of the officiating — the Hoosiers are losing games because they don’t have enough pride to fight back when they get hit in the mouth.
This team needs somebody to look to right now, and it can’t always be Crean. I know many of you are back on the ‘Fire Crean’ bandwagon, but I’m afraid you’re missing the point here. There are limitations on college coaches. They have a limited number of hours to spend with the players during the summer, when relationships are formed and habits are created. That’s also the time when leaders emerge, when guys like Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Yogi Ferrell and others drag their teammates out of their dorm rooms and into the gym to get better.
Guess what: When the regular season rolls around, those guys remember who it was that was pulling them out of bed at 5 a.m. to get extra shots up. They remember who taught them to work at the level necessary to win in college basketball, and they turn to those same people during times of adversity during games and throughout the season.
Who are they turning to now?
Blackmon was terrific against Penn State and Michigan State, and he’s had a very good year. But he is and always has been a front-runner. He’ll gladly stand in as the leader when things are going well, but he hides in the corner when things are going poorly. He’s never been a leader and he isn’t one now because he cares more about his individual future than the success of the team. I don’t really blame James for that — I think it’s mostly his dad’s fault — but Blackmon hasn’t grown into that leader in three years, so it’s safe to assume he never will at IU.
It’s not easy to be a leader. Ferrell had to learn to be one over the course of four years. The thing about being a leader is you can’t pick and choose days to lead. You have to be a leader every second of every day and every minute of every game, and you have to practice what you preach.
I hoped Bryant could be that guy for Indiana, but he’s taken two big steps back in that department as a sophomore. Think about how many times you saw him firing up the crowd and firing up his teammates with his infectious personality last year and how many times you’ve seen it this year. For whatever reason, he’s become a whiner and not a motivator.
I don’t know what the reason is, whether he’s hurting physically or whether something is bothering him in is personal life. What I do know is Bryant’s personality is every bit as infectious as it was a year ago, only this season, it’s negatively affected all of those around him.
Robert Johnson has been steady ever since the day he arrived in Bloomington, and at this point, he’s probably Indiana’s only chance at an on-court leader this season. Johnson is and always has been a guy who kind of quietly goes about his business, and I respect the hell out of him for that. But his team, his coach, his program, his school, and his fans need him to step outside his comfort zone and lead. They need him to speak up, to let his teammates know he doesn’t ever want what happened Thursday night to happen again.
Collin Hartman can only do so much leading from the bench. The same is true with Crean. This has to be a player-driven thing. They have to care enough, be embarrassed enough, be angry enough to come together and do something about it.
If they do, there’s still time to make something of this season. If they don’t, they’re headed for the NIT and putting their coach back on the hot seat, where he doesn’t belong.
As the great John Wooden said: “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.”
It’s time for Indiana to change, or the Hoosiers will find failures like Thursday night to be fatal to this once-promising season.