Was last week the worst week of the Tom Crean era?

On Wednesday, Indiana watched their faint NCAA Tournament at-large hopes evaporate when they blew an 11-point lead late in an inexplicable home loss to Big Ten cellar-dweller Penn State.  They followed up that performance with an 18-point drubbing by arch-rival Purdue on Saturday.  Sandwiched in-between those losses was an OWI arrest for Hanner Mosquera-Perea – a once-heralded recruit who has been nothing more than an occasional bit player in his two seasons in Bloomington.  Zach Osterman of the IndyStar put it best in yesterday’s paper saying, “If the Hoosiers are not at their nadir… then they can certainly see the bottom.” You'd have to imagine that a three-game losing skid and a 4-8 conference record is rock bottom.

In these situations, generally coaches get into rally-the-troops mode, and that’s what Crean did in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s blowout loss.  But, today, he again went back to his old crutch; one that Indiana fans are becoming increasingly tired of: excuses.

We’ve heard all year about how “young” Indiana is, but does that really excuse a 2-6 record against teams currently sixth or lower in the Big Ten standings?  Indiana’s “youth” shouldn’t have anything to do with not being able to beat Northwestern and Penn State at home.  You know who else is young?  Michigan.  Four of the Wolverines’ starters, and seven of their top eight scorers are underclassmen.  They too lost a pair of NBA draft picks in Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., as well as Preseason All-American Mitch McGary to a back injury.  Yet, Michigan is 18-7 and tied atop the standings of the best conference in the country.  Kansas starts three freshmen (no seniors) and has been ranked in the top ten all year.  Kentucky starts five freshmen, but that hasn’t prevented them from a 19-6 record and a likely slot as a top-four seed next month. 

Youth and attrition are two things that major programs deal with (and overcome) constantly, and Indiana has dealt with it poorly.

I’m not asking Crean to kick his team while they are down, but a coach should take ownership of his team’s shortfalls.  There is no excusing a 4-8 league record and fighting for an NIT berth at Indiana.  No one expected IU to repeat as Big Ten champs again this year, but a 10th place conference standing in the middle of February is unacceptable.  This team has fallen well short of even the most tepid preseason expectations.

Indiana has six regular season games left to salvage what they can from a season that is spiraling out of control.  It's what some fans call "put up or shut up" time. In these final few weeks, I'm looking for something - anything - to point to as a notable sign of progress for this group.

The Hoosiers' roster may still be young, but their excuses are sure getting old.