Mike Botkin is a lifelong Purdue Boilermakers fan. He'll be offering the dissenting opinion on the IU hoopla all season.
Just two short weeks ago, Indiana was even with the likes of Duke, Miami, and Kansas on the list of teams most likely to win this year’s NCAA title. No one debated it. The only question was which one of those teams would win it all. But after the embarrassing bust that was Senior Night last evening in Bloomington, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the experts start to abandon them.
Here’s your game summary: Another tough defending team leads to another weak performance by Indiana. With everything to win (an outright Big Ten regular season championship and seeding advantages in the NCAA tournament), the Hoosiers played like a middle-of-the–Big Ten team against Ohio State. They shot just 39 percent. Zeller and Oladipo got into foul trouble once again. The game wasn’t supposed to go this way for seniors Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and Derek Elston, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the meltdown. Losing on Senior Night—just like old times for those three.
This is the time of year championship teams need to hit their stride and play their best ball. Look at Duke. Residing in the top five all season, the Blue Devils recently got the services of senior Ryan Kelly back after an injury and have become, in my estimation, the team to beat for the title. In the two games Kelly has been back, he has lit it up for 36 and 18 points respectively and Duke has been dominant. Miami is another team that would give the Hoosiers fits with their athleticism and quickness. And Kansas’s height and shooting ability have always made them a title contender. (Sorry Gonzaga, despite your No. 1 ranking, I just can’t see you—or the Hoosiers—playing consistently with the big boys.)
Indiana has been exposed as a team that plays well when everything is going their way, but can’t fight their way out of a paper bag when faced with adversity. Tom Crean—a wonderful coach when ahead—can’t seem to put all the right pieces together when faced with coming back from even the slightest deficit. He can clap and cheer all he wants, but until Zeller calls for the ball more aggressively in the post and Ferrell delivers more than just an occasional great assist, Indiana will be in for a letdown of epic proportions. Like I said at the beginning of the year, Sweet 16 and done for this team.
Even if they eke out a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, the Hoosiers are now going to have a tough time getting that seed in the Big Ten tourney. This Sunday is a must-win at Michigan. If Indiana doesn’t get a victory there (and I think it’s unlikely), they will finish their best season in recent years losing three of their last four games. Going, as they say, the exact wrong direction.