INDIANAPOLIS -- The Big Ten tournament began Thursday, and the teams from the host state fell like hotdog wrappers. Indiana was gone at 2:06 p.m., Purdue at 4:46. And somehow, after this dark and cold winter in basketball’s heartland, it all made sense.
Come Sunday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee will invite 68 teams to its party, and none of them will hail from the state that gave us Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and “Hoosiers.” Indiana will have as many teams in the field as Alaska.
Sound odd? It should. That has happened only once before -- 2005 -- in the past 41 years.
“It’s too bad, because we’ve got a lot of great programs in this state, and we’ve got a lot of great coaches,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the Boilermakers lost to Ohio State 63-61. “I think it’s one of those rare years. It’s a fight [to get into the tournament], and that’s what we all have to do. It’s very, very competitive.”
Indiana is the poster team for this shutout, having endured a baffling season when the 17-15 Hoosiers beat four ranked opponents but majored in letting winnable games get away. Thursday for instance, when they were outscored 11-2 the last three minutes in a 64-54 loss to Illinois.
“It’s been a roller-coaster,” guard Yogi Ferrell said in the locker room afterward. “We brought it some games, some games we didn’t. I’m not sure why.”
This has been a bleak basketball week in Indiana. Let the bad times roll, chronologically.
Sunday, Indiana State was beaten by Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game. The Sycamores paid for lousy timing; having a contender the same season that someone else in the league was going 34-0.
Monday, Ball State was eliminated in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament, to finish 5-25.
Tuesday, Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne lost the Summit League title game in front of a partisan crowd, proving that one place you don’t want to have to play North Dakota State is in South Dakota.
Wednesday, Notre Dame made its debut in the ACC tournament and Butler made its debut in the Big East tournament. Both lost.
Thursday, it was the Indiana-Purdue double funeral. The Boilermakers had a Terone Johnson 3-pointer to win in the air at the buzzer that clanged just short. The stat sheet should only deepen Purdue’s frustration. The Buckeyes won a game in which they shot only 36 percent.
But the Boilermakers had 17 turnovers. For that matter, the Hoosiers earlier had 16. That was a combined 33 on the day the state of Indiana was evicted from the Big Ten tournament.
Counting league tournaments, the combined conference record of the five most visible state programs -- Indiana, Purdue, Butler, Notre Dame and Ball State -- was 24-71. Somewhere, Hoosier native son John Wooden can’t be happy.
Indiana was the most perplexing of all. “We lost a lot of games this year that we shouldn’t have lost,” freshman Noah Vonleh said.
Thursday was a slice of the season, as the Hoosiers were undone by too many turnovers, too many passes that went to nobody, too many times when Illinois shooters were left open. What they had here, apparently, was a failure to communicate.
Coach Tom Crean mentioned afterward Indiana’s habit of mercurial play and purpose that he has been unable to change. “Really what I want to try to do is try to find a different way to say that message, because I’ve given it a few times,” he said. “At some point you have to grow over when things aren’t going right for you.”
Any area in particular?
“The value of the basketball is a big one.”
Two hours later, Painter felt the same way. “I don’t care who you are, if you don’t give yourself a chance, you’re going to end up losing basketball games. We simply didn’t give ourselves a chance this year because we turned the ball over too much.”
This is how bad it got for Painter. Walking back to the locker room after his postgame press conference, he was stopped by Bankers Life Fieldhouse security man and asked to show his credential.
Both men mourned the inconsistencies that NCAA tournament teams cannot afford to have.
Painter on 15-17 Purdue:
“We weren’t able to consistently this year play hard and play smart at the same time, and those are two constants in the game you have to do if you’re going to be a good team.”
Crean on Indiana:
“Probably the biggest word we use is the `intent’ of it. Intent covers a lot of things. It covers your competitiveness. It covers your awareness. It covers your grit. It covers your will.
“You cannot lose intent even if it’s not going right for you. We have the talent. They just have ti grow up and they have top continue to learn those things. And days like today, they’re hard.”
Just a few blocks away Thursday, the NCAA committee members were starting to put together the bracket. They weren’t talking about the state of Indiana.