Settling in for the long haul

  • 11/23/2009 7:22 am in

MY COUCH – The Puerto Rico Tip-Off delivered just as promised.

But instead of a jump ball, the preseason tournament’s tip-off was more of the inside information variety.

The message was clear, whether you watched the games or the live blog. Despite the influx of talent, IU Basketball might not live up to the hopes some optimists placed on them before the season.

A double-digit win season now seems lofty. A .500 record would likely include a pair of glass slippers and a horse-drawn carriage made out of pumpkin.

Most Hoosier fans are currently mourning this weekend’s activities – and/or coming off a binge necessitated by the Old Oaken Bucket game – but I’m here to tell you that not all was lost in the gyms of San Juan.

My glass usually sits half-empty, but I can say without hesitation that the Hoosiers are a better team right now than they were at this point last season. As someone who had a courtside seat to Tom Crean and the greenest team in Cream and Crimson history all of last year, I can tell the Hoosiers have taken a step in the right direction.

Last season’s December losses to Northeastern and Lipscomb were gut wrenching; this year’s November defeats to Boston and George Mason are closer to stomach-able.

Although, certainly not enjoyable. After handing it to Howard and edging out USC Upstate to open the season, three consecutive losses reminds us just how far the men’s basketball program still has to go on its path to reclamation.

Around this time last year, I was in Hawaii covering the Hoosiers in the Maui Invitational (read: golfing). Before the tournament, IU registered wins over Northwestern State and IUPUI to open the season. No one was calling them world-beaters, but no one was quite anticipating the 38-point shellacking Notre Dame handed them to open the tournament either.

Expectations adjusted and reality hit harder than a Tijan Jobe screen. IU followed the loss with a 26-point defeat to Saint Josephs the next day before outlasting the Chaminade Silverswords in the seventh-place game.

This year, a tropical tournament seems to have weathered IU fans’ hopes once again. A banked 3-pointer and three straight losses will do that to you.

The difference this year is the Hoosiers have showed flashes of promise and talent that just weren’t there last season. Despite their struggles, IU has been competitive in every game this season. Even better, the IU men’s basketball team lost games it should have won this past weekend – when was the last time you could say that?

Crean might not be playing walk-ons and outfielders anymore, but he is still reliant on true freshmen adapting to the college level. In spurts, this year’s team has already displayed the type of offensive ability and defensive prowess that was missing from last year’s 6-25 team.

A difficult upcoming schedule could leave their record indicating otherwise, but the Hoosiers are getting better. They might not pull off the number of upsets some were hoping, but this year’s team will have its moments.

Hoosier fans should settle in for the long haul and be patient with this year’s bunch. There is a reason IU signed Crean to a 10-year contract. This year’s team would handily beat last year’s – it’s just hard to tell quite yet whom else they could beat.

What are your feelings post-Puerto Rico? Did you foresee these early struggles or were you caught off guard?

More to come next week.

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