This is Indiana. Basketball is what we do. Or it used to be what we do.
They say misery loves company. We've got March misery, for sure, and plenty of company.
The Indiana Hoosiers, Purdue Boilermakers, Butler Bulldogs, and Notre Dame Fighting Irish can be lumped together into one huge arena full of basketball blahs. They were a combined 56-52 heading into this week, none more than four games above .500, none with any late-February momentum.
Can NCAA officials stage March Madness without us? They can, and they probably will.
Theoretically, any of the above four schools could win their respective conference tournament and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA tourney. Also, I could be named Time's Man of the Year.
IU, Purdue, Butler and Notre Dame have looked out of sync and uninterested at times. None of the four coaches would admit to focusing on next season yet, but all of them should. They're going nowhere now, and getting there fast. Remember when Indiana fans rushed the court after beating Wisconsin? Remember when Purdue spanked Indiana? There you have the highlights of those programs' 2013-14 seasons.
Our best chance to have at least one Indiana school to root for in the NCAA tourney likely rides with Indiana State or IPFW, both of whom sit second in the their conferences.
It's possible, but far from guaranteed that Indiana State (21-8) could earn an at-large bid if it doesn't win the Missouri Valley Conference tourney. Since the Sycamores currently sit in second place to undefeated Wichita State – which is my favorite team for almost five minutes now – they have a major roadblock to a tourney title.
IPFW (21-9) will have to win the Summit League tourney to earn a bid. Can the Mastodons do it? They could, but it will take putting together three great games against some form of Dakotas to make it happen. Winning three is asking a bit much, but I'd be happy to find out I'm underestimating Tony Jasick's team.
So where does that leave us as March Madness hits for real in a couple weeks?
It leaves us looking for other teams to follow.
I like Wichita State because of its quest to be the first team to go undefeated for a title since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. I suppose if you're an IU fan, you root against this to keep Scott May, Kent Benson and the crew on top. Still, a Wichita State championship run (undefeated or not) would be the best example yet of parity in college hoops, where tradition doesn't win anything.
Creighton could be a nice team to pull for, with big-time scorer Doug McDermott.
Cincinnati, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State – these are contenders relatively close to Indiana. Hey, some of the best players at Michigan and Michigan State are from Indiana or have deep Indiana ties (such as Michigan's Glenn Robinson III). Wait, maybe you don't want to be reminded of that.
The NCAA tourney draw remains two weeks away. We still have time for one of the Indiana schools to get hot, win their conference tourney, charge into a No.8 or No.9 seed and lose in the second round.
It's much more likely we'll come up empty and start pretending to care about such things as the NIT, the CBI or maybe just CSI reruns. What a deflating way to enter college hoops' most entertaining time of the year.
Oh, well, if we can't find an alternative team to temporarily call our own, there's always the fallback position: Rooting for our brackets.