Can Indiana Hoosier basketball fans be frustrated and hopeful at the same time?

An unexpected encounter with a random, passionate IU hoops fan
Indiana University basketball fans cheer as the Hoosiers...
Indiana University basketball fans cheer as the Hoosiers... / SOPA Images/GettyImages

I wish the IU men’s basketball team players, coaching staff, and everyone else in the athletic department could have seen and heard the guy I saw and heard in the Menards parking lot.

I was hoping to buy a couple of bags of ice melt (they were sold out, I discovered a few minutes later), but when I got out of my car, a man whose car was in front of mine started yelling at me.

It took me a minute to assess the situation. The guy didn’t appear to be angry with me, but he clearly was upset about something. I started weighing my options, including jumping back into my car and trying to speed away through the slush.

But here’s what this agitated stranger was yelling: “What’s going on with our Hoosiers? They’d better get it goin’!” He had noticed my front license plate — the shiny red one with the IU logo. You’ve probably seen them.

The man continued, “Purdue blew ‘em out! Wisconsin blew ‘em out!” I replied, “Yeah, we’ve had some ups and downs this year, but too many ‘downs.’”

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“Yeah! Way too many ‘downs,’” my new friend responded. “They’d better get it goin’!”

You’d hope that even first-year players are aware of the unique level of passion surrounding basketball in Indiana. They probably are. 

But do they really grasp how much emotional energy the fans invest in what happens when the Hoosiers take the floor? How much does all of this mean to them?

Hoosier fans can cope when their beloved team loses to a squad with superior talent. Sometimes, the other guys are just better. Or maybe the other guys had one of those games where every bounce and every referee’s call went their way.

But you make your own luck, as the saying goes. And what Hoosier fans won’t accept is lack of hustle, lack of focus. When the other team grabs most of the loose balls and rebounds.

After 19 games, with a record of 12-7, Indiana is 100th in the NCAA’s NET rankings. That’s behind Michigan, whose record is 7-12. Behind Yale and Cornell from the Ivy League.

Still, we have hope. A win on the road against Illinois this Saturday would be a big step toward moving the needle in the right direction, toward the kind of finish the Hoosiers will need to climb back into NCAA tournament discussion.

Other tough contests await, including Purdue on the road Feb. 10 and Wisconsin at home Feb. 27. 

Will the Hoosiers play like a well-oiled machine the rest of the way or like a clanking bucket of bolts with rusted pieces falling off? That’s the beauty of sports — we’re about to find out.

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