Once upon a time, Indiana was good Hoosiers play the patsy at Michigan.
“Are you ready for a Hoosier story?”
The old man wearing candy stripped pants opened an aging Cream ‘n Crimson book of glories past.
“Once upon a time,” the old man said in a trembling voice, “Indiana rated among the best college basketball teams in the land.”
A young boy squirmed in a chair beside him. A battered computer screen flashed Indiana’s 90-60 loss at Michigan Thursday night.
“I thought you said you wouldn’t tell me fairy tales anymore,” the young boy said.
“This is no fairy tale,” the old man said sadly. “The Hoosiers were once very mighty. Even the sacred AP poll listed their achievements.”
He paused and adjusted eye glasses thick enough to protect a sacred artifact.
“They beat mighty Kansas. They beat mighty North Carolina. People watched them by the thousands and dreamed of national championships.”
“Are you sure this isn’t a fairy tale?” the boy asked.
“Yes,” the old man said even more sadly, “I am sure.”
The old man flipped through the book’s faded pages.
“Indiana once ruled with toughness and defense and offense so crisp and pure, you’d have thought it was devised by Michelangelo,” the old man said. “The Hoosiers had basketball giants with names such as Thomas, Benson, Buckner, Cheaney and so many more.”
The boy clicked the computer mouse and Thursday night’s box score flashed like a scene from the horror movie Rings. IU (14-7 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten) allowed Michigan (14-7 4-4) to shoot 66.7 percent in the first half, and 63.3 percent for the game. The Hoosiers gave up 22 points off their 16 turnovers, and fell behind by as many as 37 points. Leadership had the substance of smoke.
“I am sad,” the boy said.
“Others are angry,” the old man said. “Very angry.”
Somewhere outside, amid a gathering Hoosier Nation storm, a cock crowed three times.
The old man pointed to a crumpled IU roster. Two names were circled — Collin Hartman and OG Anunoby.
“They are very good players who are injured and cannot play,” the old man said. “And the Hoosiers do not have a senior on the roster. Some would consider them young.”
The boy stroked his chin as if he had aged two decades.
“Some would consider that an excuse,” he said softly. “They might be young and battered, but they have talent. They are better than this.”
“They are not Mississippi Valley, for goodness sake.”
The old man nodded.
IU hadn’t played this poorly since a 32-point drubbing to Wisconsin in 2010, when the Hoosiers, still reeling from NCAA sanctions, were beyond bad.
In Thursday night’s aftermath, Hoosier coach Tom Crean sugar coated nothing.
“At no point was our aggressiveness on defense ever enough to stem the tide. It wasn’t the offense. It was a lack of aggressiveness on defense. There’s no excuse for it. I don’t have one.”
And then …
“(Michigan) had too much space,” Crean said. “That’s the bottom line. Our shot challenge was not even close. We had guys who started who weren’t ready. We had guys come in who weren’t close to being ready to play defense. We have to get more impact from them.”
Michigan was fueled by last season’s 80-67 home loss to Indiana.
“We got off to a good start on them last year and they went on that crazy run (28-0),” Wolverine forward Zak Irvin said. “We wanted to keep our foot on the gas, and we did that.”
Michigan will play at Assembly Hall on Feb. 12.
“They’ll want to get us back,” Irvin said. “We’ll be ready.”
The old man glanced at the Cream ‘n Crimson schedule that showed a Sunday trip to Northwestern loomed. The Wildcats have become a building beast with a 17-4 record and – at long last – a NCAA tourney appearance within range.
With a 6-2 Big Ten record, just behind Wisconsin and Maryland (both at 6-1), a conference championship is very much a Northwestern possibility.
“It could get worse before it gets better,” the old man said about the Hoosiers.
“That,” the boy said, “is certainly no fairy tale.” <br>