INDIANAPOLIS -- So where does Indiana go from here?
Are the No. 16 Hoosiers, in the aftermath of Saturday’s 77-62 loss to No. 6 Louisville, about to lose their season, or save it?
Both can happen, of course, and if that sounds over the top, imagine the passion bubbling in Hoosier Nation.
Beyond that, can IU prevent a two-game losing streak from growing to three (No. 14 Wisconsin comes to Assembly Hall on Tuesday), and perhaps ruin any realistic hope of repeating as Big Ten champs less than a week into the conference season?
Under a nationally televised spotlight at sold-out Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one team responded from a disappointing conference home loss the way you’d want.
“We defended great,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “We passed beautifully. We can’t play any better than this.”
One team did not.
“I look forward to going back to work,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “We have a great group of guys, and they are surrounded by a a great group of coaches and leaders in the locker room. We’ll continue to work and get better. I have no doubt about that.”
Still, doubt has emerged.
In the last four days, IU (10-4) has likely played its way out of the top 25, hard to believe given it was a top-10 team to start the month after impressive wins over Kansas and North Carolina. On Saturday, the Hoosiers shot a season-low 32.2 percent, committed 14 turnovers and never really gave themselves a chance.
“Our turnovers at the beginning of the game were ridiculous,” Crean said. “They weren’t even forced. That’s what really bothers you.”
Add this result to Wednesday’s loss to Nebraska, and previous losses to Butler and Fort Wayne, and drama once again returns to the program. If Saturday was also a bad day for powers such as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia (which just beat Louisville), well, that won’t make the next film session any more pleasant.
“I don’t want (the players) trying too hard,” Crean said. “We’ve got a group of guys who are going to be back in the gym and try to work their way out of this. There’s a time and place for that.”
Crean has faced such adversity before. Last year, after a mess of an early non-conference start, it fueled a run to the Big Ten championship. But that was with an elite point guard in Yogi Ferrell. These Hoosiers have no such leader, and have the turnovers to prove it.
No matter. Amid the annual Hoosier Nation discontent, Crean pushes perspective.
“We just lost to a really good team. We didn’t shoot well. We haven’t had a good week.
“In a nutshell, where we’re at a crossroads is this, what it comes down to is this -- when we’re not shooting well, we’re not playing as well as we need to play on defense. We have to out-grow that.
“If there’s a common theme in when we struggle, it’s when our shooting is not where it needs to be, we don’t just bust out those (defensive) stops. That’s what we’ve got to do. That’s the tipping point right there. We’ve got to get that fixed.”
Indiana never got it fixed against Louisville (12-2). It led for just over two minutes, which reflects the disparity in the teams right now, which is painful for those who figured the Hoosiers had championship mettle.
Perhaps they’ll develop it.
Tuesday would be a great place to start.
“We’ve just got to come together and know what type of team we are, have confidence in each other and just believe,” guard James Blackmon said. “We were here before. We’ve got to come together as one group and figure out what works for us.”
Louisville came in as a defensive juggernaut -- ranked No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency -- and proved it from the opening tip against the Big Ten’s best offense.
“You have no idea the stress they put on you as a staff because of they way they drive and pass,” Pitino said. “You can’t let them shoot the way they’ve been shooting it. Our defense was great. We had 40 deflections.
“We gambled that our length could bother them. We wanted to stay on their shooters. We allowed our 7 footers to defend their guards, and we only got hurt once or twice on that in the game.”
Louisville turned IU’s offense into a first-half mess -- 24-percent shooting, 11 turnovers, zero efficiency. Only 10 offensive rebounds, which produced 13 second-change points, kept the Hoosiers within distant range.
After the first 15 minutes, IU had nine turnovers while shooting less than 30 percent, yet trailed by just a point, 25-24.
Then the Cardinals found their shooting touch and pushed ahead by 13 before settling for a 39-27 halftime lead.
Louisville went ahead by 15 early in the second half. Then Indiana went into attack mode. The deficit shrunk to 10, then six. The Hoosiers had the ball and chance to get even closer. Then a turnover -- of course -- led to a Louisville three-pointer and the opportunity was lost.
And then so was the game.
So where is the Hoosiers’ mindset after all this?
“It’s got to be strong,” Blackmon said. “We can’t look in the past or go back to games that we can’t control.
“We’ve got a great coaching staff. We’ve got to buy in, have short-term memory and get a win on Tuesday.”
Their season might count on it.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at email@example.com.
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