IU’s postseason hopes fading Hoosiers seek to regroup at surging Northwestern.

Nothing is sure now.

Nothing Cream ‘n Crimson good, anyway.

Indiana has played its way to the cusp of NCAA tourney irrelevance.

Has it really come to that?

Wait.

Don’t answer.

The Hoosiers (14-7) have already lost one more Big Ten game (four) than they did all of last season en route to the conference championship.

Thomas Bryant and Josh Newkirk tried to explain the unexplainable of Thursday night’s 30-point debacle at Michigan, but all they could manage was to hit the same notes – execute better, bring a better mindset – they and other Hoosiers had reached before.

“There are no excuses,” Bryant said. “We have to execute better. It falls on us.”

Slow starts have become a Hoosier norm. At Michigan on Thursday night, IU trailed by 10 points after five minutes, by 17 after 10.

Why?

“It starts with our mindset,” Bryant said. “There’s no excuse to come out like that, especially in the Big Ten. Winning on the road is very hard in this conference.”

Added Newkirk: “Look at what we did wrong, correct it and bring a new mindset.”

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before.

This would be acceptable if this were, say, early December and the Hoosiers were still improving and growing, as last year’s group did. But we’re pushing late January, the halfway mark of Big Ten play, and IU looks as clueless on defense and ball security as ever.

Can’t somebody make it stop?

“It’s being more prepared mentally,” Newkirk said. “Locking in before the game and warming up right.”

If only it were that easy.

On Thursday, Bryant played 32 minutes and got one rebound. That can’t happen. He is listed as 6-10 and 255 pounds. He was once considered a potential NBA first-round pick in this summer’s draft. He should stumble his way to at least half a dozen boards a game just by breathing.

Bryant needs to spend the next week watching nothing but Caleb Swanigan highlight videos to see how its done.

Here’s a hint – go after every shot as hard as you can.

Repeat as needed.

James Blackmon played 33 minutes and never took a three-pointer. That might be an unwanted career first given he ranks among the nation’s best three-point shooters.

Even worse, Blackmon’s surgically repaired right knee was wrapped by a bag of ice after the game. He had tweaked it during the game, though it didn’t seem to be an issue at the time.

If you believe kenpom.com, and you should, Indiana is the Big Ten’s worst team in defensive efficiency. The Hoosiers can’t defend the perimeter or the rim, which, when you think about it, is hard to do. They make it worse by throwing the ball away, especially on the fast break, which makes you think they should slow it down, but that goes against coach Tom Crean’s push-the-pace nature.

And it does work, by the way, when the Hoosiers are dialed in, as they were last weekend against Michigan State, when they only had a season-low nine turnovers in a much-needed victory that turned out to be fool’s gold.

You are only as good as your last performance, which means IU stinks until it proves otherwise.

On Sunday it travels to Northwestern. This was once as close to a guaranteed victory as you were likely to see in college athletics. During one 10-year streak through the 1970s, IU won 20 straight in the series. In other stretch, it won 26 in a row and 32 of 33.

But these Wildcats (17-4, 6-2) are made of far tougher stuff. Their eight-man rotation delivers consistency and resiliency in equal dosages. Their four losses – to Notre Dame, Butler, Michigan State and Minnesota – have come by a total of 19 points.

Under coach Chris Collins, they have won five straight in Big Ten play, which is more conference wins than they’ve totaled in six different seasons this century.

They are led by Scottie Lindsey (15.6 points, 4.3 rebounds), Vic Law (14.3, 5.8) and Bryant McIntosh (12.7 points, 5.6 assists). <br>

<center> Up next </center><br>

Tip-off: Indiana at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Radio: WGL, 1250-AM; 102.9-FM

TV: BTN