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Hoosiers gradually on way back

By Jordan Cohen

If there was ever any doubt, IU’s eighth-place finish in Puerto Rico pretty much confirmed it – restoring IU basketball will be a long-term project for IU coach Tom Crean.

It was inevitable from the start, but IU’s most recent losses, against Boston University and George Mason in particular, proved that the rebuilding process will not be without its share of significant bumps and bruises.

The Hoosiers are headed in the right direction, and there is no question about that. The process of returning to national prominence – and, frankly, relevance – is going to take some time, however.

This year was never expected to be a 20-win season, and perhaps next year might not be either, but certainly three losses in Puerto Rico have brought IU back down to reality.

Perhaps expectations were set too high, considering this is a team rebounding from a 6-25 season, but perhaps they were not.  

It’s only five games into the season. You know that, they know that and I know that. The Hoosiers have plenty of time to right this ship and have a great year.  
But there is a ton of work to be done.

This team has several young players that should eventually complete their eligibility as excellent four-year players, but as a collective unit the team has a long way to go.

There will be brighter days, probably a couple of months from now when things truly click, and only then will IU score some quality wins and avoid the bad losses.

For now, however, the team has to take it day by day and game by game. It’s an extremely overused and annoying sports cliche, but it’s the truth.

Every loss will be frustrating – likely some more than others – and maybe some of the wins will be, too.  

But this is a basketball program, not just a basketball team. The work the players are putting in now will go a long way in determining the future of IU basketball while also restoring its recently tarnished image.  

This year’s win-loss total will be in the record books forever, but it will also mark another step in the right direction for the Hoosiers. IU basketball will continue to improve, and though it may not look like it at the time, it is getting better now.

Virtually every coach talks about reaching mid-season form. IU is not there yet, but it will be. Crean and the coaches are working hard, as are the players, and that’s just something fans must understand.

Building a program back up from essentially rock bottom is always going to be a gradual progression. The wins won’t necessarily come in bunches, but they will come more frequently over time.

IU probably should have beaten both Boston and George Mason, but they didn’t. It’s time for the fans to move forward as IU moves ahead.

Though there are some differences, the Hoosiers are experiencing something not entirely different from the progress another program, Cincinnati, has been making.

Like IU, the 2006-07 Bearcats returned just one role-playing scholarship player and lost its star freshman guard. They, too, finished at the very bottom of their conference.

In year two, Cincinnati also had just one third-year player. He, too, was a walk-on. That season the Bearcats began 4-7, including bad losses against Belmont, Bowling Green and Illinois State. Although they finished just 13-17 in the regular season, they had January wins against Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.  

A year ago, their third rebuilding season, the Bearcats finished with 18 wins and were a bubble team as late as the first of March. Now, coach Mick Cronin feels the program is finally back on its feet, and the team is poised to finally make a return to the NCAA Tournament.

Long story short, it might take Crean and the Hoosiers a couple more years before they seriously push for a tournament berth and stand among the Big Ten elite again. But they are on their way.

IU basketball was never going to be a short-term fix, and anyone who thought it would be never fully understood the difficulty of basically restarting an entire program.

This year is still young, and fans must not get worked up about a few games. Eventually, the wins will come.

Crean has most of the tools he needs to repair this program, but it is going to take some time and a lot of patience.

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