BLOOMINGTON – Indiana’s basketball crisis of faith resonates long and loud and with this message:
It is an outside thing.
Inside the walls of Cook Hall and Assembly Hall, where Hoosier coaches and players gather and work and demand, there is no crisis, only resolve.
So while the Hoosier Nation rocks with its annual turmoil regarding coach Tom Crean and the state of the program, the Hoosier team focuses on ending the three-game slide that has so many so unhappy, and igniting a winning streak that will silence all the doubters.
Center Thomas Bryant, for one, is convinced IU is fully prepared to make that happen as it wasn’t in losses to Nebraska, Louisville and Wisconsin in the previous 10 days.
“We have a lot more confidence in this game than we did on the others,” he says. “We’re holding each other more accountable. We’re really well prepared for this one.
“The coaches give us all we need to know. We have to execute it.”
That Indiana (10-5 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten) has suddenly lost its way is shocking given its talent and experience, given that it has perhaps the conference’s two best victories in Kansas and North Carolina. Its NCAA RPI — a key factor in determining NCAA tourney at-large bids — is No. 134, which means it has a lot of work to do to impress the selection committee.
The good news — there is plenty of time to do it.
And while the issues are obvious — too many turnovers, lousy defense — the solution rests more with leadership and mental toughness and demanding more of each other.
And so the players push the “accountability” factor, which means tough love as well as pats on the back. Not everyone can do that with teammates.
With a three-game losing streak as motivator, Bryant insists that’s not a problem.
“It’s easy for us because we all want the same goal. We all want to win. We are family, and family will get on each other if you’re doing something wrong.
“If we see someone doing something wrong, we’ll say something. It’s not to hurt you, but to help us.”
Crean pushes that same message.
“We can’t be afraid to say what needs to be said during the game, sometimes encouraging, sometimes demanding. Until you have it consistently, you don’t have it.
“We’re not losing games because we’re not playing hard or competitively, but we’re not as verbal and don’t have that urgency. We need to have the awareness. We have to remind each other of that.”
Speaking of reminders, as Hoosier Nation ratchets up the Crean criticism, consider this:
The guy has won two outright Big Ten titles in the last four years, has taken IU to three Sweet 16s in the last five seasons, and was the 2016 conference coach of the year. His players not only graduate, they usually graduate early. There are no NCAA violations or academic fraud concerns or scandal outbreaks.
In other words, Crean’s job security is fine.
Anyway, IU’s defense has been torched the last three games, especially from the perimeter, allowing 47.4 percent on three-pointers.
Let’s just say that’s really bad.
The solution, Bryant says, is again mental more than physical.
“It’s coming out with the right mindset. The coaches prepare us. It’s up to us to execute what we have to do. It starts with us, not the coaches, to hold each other more accountable.”
This is the last of three straight home games to start Big Ten play, and to have any chance at repeating as conference champs, the Hoosiers have to win. A No. 1 priority is starting well, something that didn’t happen last Tuesday against Wisconsin, when IU committed a turnover in four of its first five possessions and fell behind 13-0.
“We’ve talked about having more energy,” Bryant says. “It’s all about a collective mindset. We can’t come out flat. We’ll be on the road soon. We have to have a mindset and energy that goes past anybody else.
“We’ve locked into Illinois and the key things we need to do. We know it’s going to be a 40-minute play and we have to play Indiana basketball for 40 minutes.”
That is not a mission impossible task, Crean says.
“It’s a long season. We’ve had a tough week and a half, but in all of those games, the goal of winning was attainable. There are so many things we can do to be better, but they’re all things we’ve done.
“We have to have consistent leadership from everybody on the floor. It’s not about the one or two leaders, it’s about a group of guys who work together. We have to get better segments of the game. We got to take care of the ball better, get better in our defensive pressure and shot challenges, and quit having empty possessions.
“We can be a very good team. We have been. We have to learn from what we’ve done.”
That requires faith and not crisis.
Do these Hoosiers have the first and not the second?
We’re about to find out.
This column is the commentary of the writer and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Pete DiPrimio at firstname.lastname@example.org