Indiana is in retreat, and that might be a good thing.
In the midst of a mid-season, mini-slump, the IU basketball program is recoiling from the spotlight. With their Big Ten title aspirations and presumably their coach's job security on the line, the Hoosiers are huddling up for the stretch run, and they're trying to keep those outside their locker room at arm's length.
Mind you, this isn't a Bob Knight-style, all-access denied approach. Media relations directors and assistant coaches aren't sent out to handle post-game press conferences, and the usual assortment of basketball practices remain open to the media. But there are a few less players being made available, and a few less smiles from those who are.
Robert Vaden, for one, became testy on a couple of occasions after the 88-80 loss to UConn. The first time was when a UConn beat reporter tried to draw out a response about how the players handled the speculation about Mike Davis' job security…three times. Vaden's first response was of the polite variety, suggesting that he was unaware of that talk and thus couldn't provide much of an opinion.
The reporter continued to delve into the subject, though, ostensibly re-wording the question in an effort to get a reaction. When pressed on the subject for a third time, Vaden pressed back.
"I don't listen it. I don't care," said a visibly angered Vaden.
That set the stage for a second encounter, this time with a reporter who hadn't witnessed the first exchange. For those who had, it was obvious this second reporter's suggestion that this Indiana team was "fragile" was bound to elicit a less-than-warm-and-fuzzy response from Vaden.
"You think we're fragile mentally?" Vaden shot back.
"A lot of people say that," retorted the reporter.
"I don't think so at all. We've got a good basketball team," insisted Vaden with a glare.
While that encounter was more a result of a couple of ill-timed questions following the Hoosiers loss to the nation's top-ranked team, it figures to only add to the "us against them" approach that IU appears to be taking into the second half of the Big Ten slate.
Mike Davis has been beating that drum ever since the 61-42 loss at Minnesota, a setback that had many IU fans jumping off the bandwagon and then piling on about the direction the program was headed by season's end. While Indiana did squander an opportunity to grab hold of first place in Minneapolis, Davis wasn't quite ready to treat it like Armageddon like so many fans did.
"We're one game out of first and people think we're in last," said Davis.
Whether the recent criticism directed toward the IU program is justified or not, it's undoubtedly served as a rallying point for the players and coaches, all of whom appear tired of mountains being made out of every one of the program's molehills.
In their minds, they're well positioned to make a run at a Big Ten title after making the turn at 5-3. After all, there is only one team in the Big Ten with less than three losses, and that Iowa team must travel to Bloomington on Saturday to face a Hoosier team that has won 13 straight conference games in Assembly Hall.
Maybe the fact that IU has lost three out of four is nothing more than a blip on the season's radar, the sort of struggles that every team goes through during a 30-plus game season. Maybe it's not a sign that the lug nuts are loose and the wheels are about to go bouncing down 17th Street.
That's yet to be determined. But the response from fans and supposedly the media to that slide has served as a rallying point for a coach and a team that wants to do it's talking on the court instead of off of it.
Yes, they're in retreat.
But they're not hoisting the white flag.
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