Indiana is at the point many expected it to be on March 3. Losing games against hot Big Ten teams with much more size? That seemed a safe bet on Nov. 1, no?
And yet, the noise around the program keeps getting louder and louder because the Hoosiers diverged from that original trajectory and gave their fans false hope that they've since snatched away.
Indiana was safely in the NCAA Tournament and battling for seeding only a few weeks ago, and the Hoosiers still may make the Dance. But after Tuesday night's ugly 77-63 home loss to Iowa, the Hoosiers are in danger of sitting at home for the second straight March, a haunting possibility for which they have only themselves to blame.
"We're not worried about all that too much right now," Yogi Ferrell said of the season slipping away. "We're just focused on each game at a time and getting better. We'll evaluate ourselves after the season."
They seemed to salvage this season after an offseason from hell by playing harder and faster than their opponents and making more perimeter shots than any Indiana team ever has. And yet lately, they've taken a detour back to that original road map by allowing teams to slow them down far too easily, and by standing so much on offense that the Assembly Hall couldn't help but boo on Tuesday night.
"We just stay together," Troy Williams said when asked about the booing. "At the end of the day, it's just us out there on the court. We have to stay together."
Tom Crean and Indiana have gotten away from what worked with this undersized team, and now they've slipped into a hole that may be impossible to climb out of. Collin Hartman's absence over the last two games has hurt more than most expected, without a doubt, but that alone should not be used to explain Indiana's recent ineptitude.
Fans aren't only mad because Indiana is 19-11 and on the bubble. They're mad because the Hoosiers gave them false hope, and then ripped it away just as quickly as they created it. They enjoyed watching this team because it played fast, scored lots of points, and scrapped for wins at home when shots weren't falling.
"I still think the one thing if there is a recurring theme, we get disappointed at times when we're not making shots," Crean said. "That's a maturity thing. Every young player goes through it to a degree and then you have to grow out of it. Tonight, it wasn't as much of that but it was the recognition of what was there. We were very conscious of moving the ball. Our thing is sometimes we're trying to make something happen."
The noise is getting loud for Crean now, and it's not unfair. The Hoosiers have put themselves in this situation, and they're the only ones that can get themselves out of it. Win at Michigan State on Saturday, have a good showing in the Big Ten Tournament next week, and they can salvage this season. Lose those games, and they may well miss the NCAA Tournament again.
Regardless of what the roster looked like before the season, this is Indiana, and expectations will always be high. Missing the tournament -- and even being on the bubble -- in back-to-back years is unacceptable at a program as rich in history as Indiana. Crean did a great job with this team early in the season, but he has let things get away from him, and hasn't been able to correct it.
"I'm not big on frustration," Crean said. "I think you better grow out of frustration once you get past the fifth or sixth grade. I really do. We're practicing really hard, really well. We're tuned in. These guys want to win."
Crean may not be frustrated, but the fan base certainly is. The boos grew louder as the night wore on Tuesday, and the Hoosiers played worse in worse. They're in trouble, and they have only themselves to blame.