Indianapolis – After spending three weeks trying to pick up the pieces, Dan Dakich and the IU basketball staff face their toughest task to date this coming week.
Win another basketball game.
I'm not talking about resurrecting a once promising season and resurfacing in San Antonio at the Final Four or even advancing to IU's first Sweet 16 in six years. No, I'm simply talking about figuring out a way to keep this season from ending in 40 minutes.
The way Indiana's playing these days, that's how long it's going to take this team to exit the NCAA tourney next week.
Once considered a potential No. 3 or 4 seed, the 22nd-ranked Hoosiers (25-7) have likely slipped to a No. 6 or even a No. 7 thanks to its finish line face plant in the last two weeks of the season.
Dakich knows what that means.
"We're going to play someone pretty good in the first round," Dakich said.
That's bad news for an IU team that hasn't beaten anyone that's pretty good away from Assembly Hall in quite some time.
Since Kelvin Sampson resigned three weeks ago, the Hoosiers' only win away from Assembly Hall came in last-minute fashion against a Northwestern team that has won three Big Ten games in two years. Their other three road trips have resulted in a 29-point demolition at the hands of Michigan State and most recently a pair of narrow setbacks to a pair of teams that were each playing without one of their top scorers.
As the team licks its wounds and waits to learn its NCAA fate Sunday afternoon, the Hoosiers can expect to go against someone like Arizona or St. Joseph's or Baylor or Temple…all teams that are a whole lot better than the teams that have been beating IU as of late.
Can Indiana manage to re-group, re-unite, and re-capture any of the things that were going right a couple of months ago? Recent results and even common sense would say it's a long shot, but Dakich says anything is possible.
"What would happen if I said, ‘you know, no. Hell no,'" quipped Dakich at a reporter's question about his team's ability to rebound in the NCAAs. "Yes we can. I think we can go into the NCAA Tournament and make something special happen.
"Kids are resilient. Kids bounce back - a lot better than adults do."
That may be the case, but this group of kids hasn't rebounded from the disappointment of losing Sampson three weeks ago. Not only have they lost three out of six games, but there have been plenty of rumors about discord between some players and the interim head coach as well as amongst each other.
Dakich has shrugged off suggestions of any sort of rift that may have developed, but he did make it clear it's time for these players to forget about things they can't control and worry about things they can.
The biggest of those things is the remainder of their once-promising season.
"They have to (get past Sampson's resignation)," Dakich said. "There's no ifs, ands or buts. He ain't coming back."
No he isn't, but can the Hoosiers?
That will be the monumental chore facing Dakich and his staff this week. Can they figure out a way to take a team that appears ready to close the book on the 2007-08 season and get it geared up for another chance at redemption?
"At the end of the day, if guys don't understand they have to get ready to play in the NCAA Tournament…nobody should have to bring anybody together to play in that," Dakich said.
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