BLOOMINGTON – Indiana has about six weeks.
That’s what’s left of the regular season, and of a Big Ten season that started so brightly and now has crashed down on top of the Hoosiers.
Six weeks to rescue the promise of a season undercut by injuries, youth and startling inconsistency. Six weeks for Indiana to decide what kind of team it wants to be, and what kind of season it wants to have.
Maybe that decision has already been made, consciously or otherwise. It felt like it Friday, watching Michigan score 17 unanswered points to start a 69-46 win. Indiana missed its first 10 shots, looking stuck somewhere between painfully unconfident and alarmingly disinterested. Michigan was gift-wrapped its eighth Big Ten win, and Indiana absorbed its seventh Big Ten loss.
Whatever your expectations were of this team, this fell acres short of them. The Hoosiers’ (12-8, 3-6) last four performances, in various ways, all have.
“Our team in general right now is soft, and we’re also for whatever reason right now scared, and you can just tell by the way that we played,” coach Archie Miller said. “The fight isn’t there right now, and the confidence isn’t there on either end of the floor to be able to capitalize on any type of opportunity that we have, to be honest with you.
“There’s nothing we’re doing well.”
Where blame for those performances, and for this six-game slide more broadly, should be apportioned is a tough question to answer.
“We have each other’s back. We need to show that,” said senior forward Juwan Morgan, IU’s leading scorer Friday with 16 points. “We just can’t keep taking punches. We can’t just keep laying down whenever we do get punched. We have to be able to fight. I just keep telling the guys that whenever you get hit, you can’t just give up.
“If one guy is fighting, all five of us are fighting, and that needs to be the way it’s going from here on out.”
Largely out of anyone’s control has been this team’s rotten injury luck. Eight different Hoosiers have missed at least one game with an injury this season. Three players — all of them 6-7 or taller — were unavailable due to injury Friday night.
They are not new concerns, which means they should not take Miller or anyone on his staff by surprise. But when they stack up the way they have this winter, they wear a team down, and there feels a palpable impact in terms of fatigue displayed right now by Morgan, Romeo Langford and others.
But a team should also be judged by the measure of its reaction to adversity, even when it is extreme. And this team, from Miller on down, has not reacted well.
This was bound to be an imperfect squad the moment injuries started mounting. It is young (nine of its 13 scholarship players are freshmen or sophomores), and imbalanced. Miller was on record as far back as September in saying IU wouldn’t reach its potential this year without becoming a deep team, and the Hoosiers have never had that chance.
Still, they have a likely lottery pick in Langford. They have a returning second-team All-Big Ten forward in Juwan Morgan. They showed the skill to blow out a Marquette team running near first in the (admittedly weak) Big East. They won four straight games in December against high-major opponents by a single possession, leaning on a defense that was then stingy and is now so porous Indiana’s last six opponents have all averaged at least 1.02 points per possession.
Indiana will not be as good as it could have been this season. It also should not be as bad as it has been this month.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.