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COLUMN: Crossroads for 'inconsistent' Hoosier program

The up and down nature of the Hoosier basketball program is coming to bear as everyone deals with a five game losing skid and the reality that the NCAA tournament is a distant dream.

Indiana fans don't like an inconsistent program. That's painfully clear on our message boards and on social media over the last few weeks.

That's what Indiana basketball is right now. Outside of a miracle run at the Big Ten tournament, for the second time in the last four years, Indiana isn't going to be in the NCAA tournament.

The flip side is two regular season Big Ten titles over the last five seasons. 

Inconsistent results bring arguments or facts to both sides of the debate as to how successful a program has been over time.

Two years ago things got ugly after a late season swoon that followed a 17-15 season where Indiana did not even receive an NIT invite. Back then there was squabbling on both sides. 

Maybe it's apathy or fatigue from that go around but nowadays the glass half full crowd has been strangely silent. Back then there was  more of a light at the end of the tunnel feeling with a good recruiting class coming in led by a  McDonald's All-American  (Thomas Bryant).  

Indiana's current three man recruiting class doesn't crack the Scout Top 25 national team rankings and the program missed out on all four in-state players ranked among the top 35 nationally. That's a bit of an elephant in the room.

When you add in the speculation that Bryant, James Blackmon Jr. and OG Anunoby will all leave early for the NBA, then there's even more reason for the angst.

This year's slide is not without legitimate reasons. Two main cogs (Hartman, Anunoby) were lost to season ending injuries and two other starters (Blackmon, Morgan) have been hobbled and missed some conference play. Then aside from the ill-fated road trip week to Michigan and Northwestern, all of the Big Ten losses have been close contests where Indiana had a clear opportunity to come out with the win. 

Tom Crean is a good coach. You don't win Big Ten regular season titles and take another program to the Final Four if you're not a good coach. This is Indiana, however, and expectations are sky high despite the mixed results of the last couple decades. 

Conventional wisdom among basketball people is Indiana won't change leadership  a year after a league title. That's not a prediction because this is complicated. 

One of those complications for Indiana  A.D. Fred Glass is his coach's contract only has a little over three years remaining. For recruiting sake that's when you start to think about an extension. 

Glass could have extended the contract a year ago after the regular season title was earned but passed. Now the current environment makes it  unlikely unless there's some minor extension. A minor extension (i.e, two years) would be like punting and probably please neither side. And if you don't know after nine years, will you ever know?

Experience suggest a change rarely happens soon after fans demand it go down. There's a human element they don't see or have to worry about that a University A.D. or President does take into account. The exception may be the school that feels its brand is that sport (i.e., Nebraska football) and thus it takes on a more ruthless approach. Maybe that's your final complication and what may keep March interesting for Hoosier fans who don't take kindly to inconsistency.


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