This has been a roller coaster season thus far for Indiana and head coach Tom Crean. This week coming up has the possibility to make it even more topsy-turvy than it already was. The Hoosiers (15-11, 5-8) will play three games in the next five days all against ranked opponents. Taking a look at the possible outcomes of this stretch and the reaction each would give Crean and Hoosier Nation is an interesting dynamic.
#14 Wisconsin (22-5, 9-5) is up first as IU will travel to Madison tonight. We all know what happened the first time these squads met this year. Yogi Ferrell put on a great performance and IU beat the then #3 Badgers in Bloomington to hand them their first loss of the year. Thursday night comes the make up date from last week’s postponed contest against Iowa after a piece of Assembly Hall’s ceiling crashed down into the seats. The Hawkeyes (19-7, 8-5) are ranked #19 this week. They are coming off a home loss to Wisconsin over the weekend. Then on Sunday, IU will welcome Ohio State to Bloomington to cap off this unbelievable one week stretch. The #20 Buckeyes (22-6, 9-6) are playing much better of late and have won six of their last seven games.
The Hoosiers know this will be a tough week, but let us look ahead at what could be the end result come Sunday evening. The least likely scenario would be the Hoosiers sweep all three games this week. This would do two things- 1) Most of Hoosier Nation would take a step back from the ledge and they would also stop calling for Crean’s head (at least momentarily) 2) The Hoosiers would put themselves back into the NCAA discussion. Three wins would put them at 18-11 overall and back to .500 in the conference. They would also then have five wins over top 20 teams including a sweep of Wisconsin. They would probably not be a lock then, but they would at least be in the discussion and trending in the right direction to close the season.
The next possibility is they win two out of three. Still a very nice achievement for this team, but could still not land them in tournament bubble talks. 17-12 and two games below .500 in the conference is a tough sell to the selection committee. Maybe getting a road win over Wisconsin coupled with another home win over a ranked opponent would help the perception but not likely to sway the committee. The fan base’s reaction would probably be split. Some would defend the team and coach Crean especially if they got a big road win. Plus, that would be three wins out of their last four games which would give the fans hope of a strong finish.
Winning one of the next three could have multiple differences in reaction depending on what was the win. Winning at Wisconsin tonight, but losing the next two at home would be demoralizing to the fans and probably the players. Hopes would be high and then to see them crash down with two home losses would spark more “fire Crean” talk (not like it will ever go away with IU’s fans but it would not be on a full scale alert). Winning one of the two home games would feel like a salvage of this tough week and I don’t think would change the tone of the program or fans. Taking just one win away from this week would not put IU into tournament talks and they would be looking squarely at an NIT bid.
Losing all three games would very nearly be a disaster. Sinking to 5-11 in the Big Ten and hovering one game above .500 overall with just two regular season games left would be a far cry from outright conference champs and a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament as they were last year. This is a different team with an overhauled roster, but the expectations were high. If the Hoosiers lose all three games this week, the roar from the fans who dislike Crean would be at an all-time high. This would be a stretch of six losses in seven games and put any postseason bids at risk. This is obviously the worst case scenario, but not out of the realm of possibility.
Now you see the daunting task ahead over the next five days for Crean and IU. Obviously not an easy road with three straight top twenty teams crammed into a short stretch. The question is now how will this week turn out. How will this team respond to the adversity and up-and-down nature this season has been? Will Crean be able to make the right moves and get his team ready for this tough week all the while quieting some of his critics? These are all interesting scenarios with drastically different results and perceptions waiting after each outcome. It all starts tonight in Madison and we will know the situation more clearly Sunday evening in Bloomington.
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