Ben Malcomson: “Ride or Die Hoosiers”

and the NIT - Let’s Talk About It


Written by: Ben Malcomson

Is it the postseason berth that IU fans envisioned?  Nope. Yet, here we are.

It is the day after the NCAA and NIT selection shows concluded, Indiana missed one dance, made another, and the sun is still rising the day after.  There really is a tomorrow. It is not the end of times. Thank goodness!  Because, if I read everything and took it to reality, you would think the world was going to end.

The Hoosiers missed the NCAA tournament (the biggest dance of them all) and it sucks.  It sucks!!! AHHHHH!!!! Let it out!!!  Punch something. Not someone, let’s not get ridiculous. On second thought, just take deep breaths.

Ok, we got it.  Now, let’s chill out.

Do not get me wrong, it does hurt the soul in me to be on the outside looking in, but I know it hurts the players and the staff even more.

I cannot speak for all athletes, but I did play high school sports and I lost…..A LOT.  From that experience, I can assure you of two things:

1)      You never go into a game hoping or playing to lose.  You always want to win.  You might feel better about your chances from game to game, you might feel physically ready more so from one game to the next, but you never go in playing to lose.

2)      You never EVER get used to losing.

That is the reality of the 2018-19 Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team.  A team that has lost its share of basketball games.  But, if you look close enough, you can tell it is not because they play to lose.  It is not because they are getting used to losing either.  It is because they have spent all season trying to figure out who the hell they are as a unit and it shows.  Is that on the players?  Is that on the coaches?  Hell, I think everyone takes ownership to a certain extent of why they haven’t been figuring that out.  The truth is (reality check time!) some of it has a lot to do with not being in their control.  Injuries are a real factor.  You cannot sit there and tell me a healthy Race Thompson, De’ron Davis, Rob Phinisee, and Jerome Hunter would not make a bit a difference. Because, it would.

-          Race missed most of the season (concussion) and still played like a grown ass man among boys out there.

-          It hurt to watch De’ron hobble up and down the floor even.  A young man less than a year removed from rupturing his Achilles for god sakes!  You tell me to go out there and play, and I would tell you to kiss my ass.  But, not him.  He played. It hurt, but he played through the healing process.

-          Rob Phinisee was only getting better and better until he broke his fall with his head.  Again, terribly unfortunate.  Concussions are no joke and I commend the coaching and medical staff for making sure their health was priority #1 over what some of the fans desired with rushing them back out there.  Barring that, Phinisee would have helped them win many more games down the stretch fully healthy.

-          Jerome Hunter.  What can I say really?  He never even got to get on the floor.  He has a health condition, folks. Not an injury.  An actual condition that needs to be taken even more serious than a straight up injury. This kid was going to be something truly special. I whole heartedly believe that he would have been a difference maker.  Now, he will open your eyes come 2019-2020 season.  You just wait.

Zach McRoberts also fought injury all year long. I am not even sure if we had a fully healthy person on the team now that I think about it.

Now, as a fan, how can you realistically expect a team to figure out their identity when you keep getting your foundation rocked again and again and again?  Perseverance is what got them 17 wins this season.  Without that, we wouldn’t even be talking NIT.

Some fans can say that MOST TEAMS know their identity by this time of year.  In my opinion, that is not true.  Sometimes, you never figure out who you are as a team until it is too late.  For this season, it was too late for them to make it into the big one.  But they still have time to figure that out to make what some would consider “something out of nothing”.

The Hoosiers were even a different team back in early November.  Are we a more polished team now than then?  Hard to say polished is the right word, because it’s been an inconsistent ride throughout.  What they are is seasoned.  Seasoned at what it takes to win a game and what it can take to lose a game with the pieces you do have.

They just need to go into the first round of the NIT tapping into that team that went on a 4-game winning streak at the end of the season.

Don’t you remember before the winning streak? All hope was lost.  They were to the point of just playing out the season both as fans and as a team.  Suddenly, an ass whipping at Minnesota and a locker room discussion later, we start seeing the team’s potential with what pieces they do have.  It was different than the early season team though.  This was a more mature looking team. Playing for one another rather than trying to do too much themselves.  They were figuring out roles. Figuring out who plays off who, etc.

I cannot imagine the feeling they had last night watching the NCAA selection show like the rest of us and not hearing their name called.  It had to be a tough pill to swallow.  Well, it is reality.  We are heading to the NIT. The best of the rest.  It’s the Hoosiers and 31 other programs who thought they played well enough to get a berth in the big dance.

First stop, back a Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to face off with a Saint Francis (PA) team that finished the season 18-14 (12-6 Northeast Conference) and lost in their conference tournament championship game to Fairleigh Dickinson 85-76.  They were so close to an NCAA tourney berth, they could taste it.  So close, yet so far away.  You can bet your ass they will be coming into Assembly Hall determined to unseat a Big Ten program.  To prove to their fans that they are at least better than the #1 NIT seeded 17-15 Hoosier team.

What do I want to see out of the Hoosiers?  I want to see that team that did not throw in the towel down the stretch of the season.  I want to see a team that fought tooth and nail to earn 16 of their 17 wins with no give.  I want to see a team that is playing like a team should play.  For each other and not themselves.  If doing it for each other for 40+ minutes is not enough, then do it for a fanbase that truly loves you.  That is one thing I say that all Hoosier fans share is the love of the program.  Through the good times and the bad.  Through sickness (injury) and in health.  Ride or die, Hoosiers.  That’s your motto this season. To your die-hard fans, it does mean something. It is not nothing. Now, it is time to go out there and make something special out of it.