IU Women’s Basketball is on fire, The Men are not: How the culture and success of the two programs are worlds apart

Indiana prides itself on having one of the best basketball environments in the country, but right now only one program is living up to that notion

Iowa v Indiana
Iowa v Indiana / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

Culture is synonymous with good basketball teams. It isn’t a physical talent; it’s not something you’re born with, and one player alone can’t form a culture. An entire unit of players and coaches must create a culture. It is easily seen from a basketball team, and just by watching the games from this past week, it's apparent that just one basketball team on the Indiana University campus has a culture, and it's the women’s team.

I had the opportunity to attend both the women’s and men’s home games this past week. The men's team lost to Nebraska, while the women defeated Iowa. Both teams had a 50/50 chance to win; that was the only thing the games had in common.

The atmosphere was the most significant difference. The women’s game was absolutely electric. The men’s game was up and down. This is a direct byproduct of these teams' cultures. The two most significant men's home games -- Kansas and Purdue-- did not come close to the atmosphere the ladies had against Iowa on Thursday.

The women’s team has a culture of joy, togetherness, and success. It seems as if the men's team lacks any culture whatsoever. Moreover, the culture of the women's team has affected the passion of the fans who come to their games. They were passionate, loud, and emotionally invested in every play of the game. This cannot be said about the men’s game because of the product on the floor.

This may seem like a “fair-weather fan” mentality, but that could not be further from the truth. These fans root for the men’s and women’s teams and are incredibly passionate about basketball. That said, it’s almost impossible to be emotionally invested in a men’s team that seems lazy. Also, Indiana basketball fans are some of the most thoughtful fans in the country.

Investing in the men’s team with how much they’ve been losing would be a waste of energy and emotion. It's not just the losses; it's how they’re losing. Missed free throws, turnovers, and a lack of passion on defense are their most significant issues. These fundamentals are what the Hoosiers used to pride themselves on. All this boils down to one thing: a lack of enthusiasm from the fans, and it’s completely justified. 

In contrast, the women are one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country. They play with passion, they play together, and they play to win. All these qualities are passed on to the fans, who are already incredibly passionate about basketball.

This results in what occurred on Thursday night: absolute pandemonium from start to finish. Thousands of people were lined up about three hours before the game, and Assembly Hall was filled 30 minutes before tipoff. This resulted in an unparalleled atmosphere not seen at the Hall this season, in men’s or women’s. 

Some may think the crowd's enthusiasm was the “Caitlin Clark Effect,” that notion may have some merit, but IU women’s basketball has been at the top of attendance rankings all season. Also, people who would make that assertion would assume that there was a large contingent of Iowa or Clark fans, but that was not the case.

The game was a whiteout, which made Iowa fans easy to spot in the crowd. At least 95 percent of the crowd were Hoosier fans. There was a small contingent of Hawkeye fans. While Clark undoubtedly played a role in the environment, giving her the sole or majority credit would be a disservice to the IU women, as the fans came out for the Hoosiers.

One thing that was easy to spot was head women’s coach Teri Moren’s emotion from the sidelines. She exhibited such emotion after every play, good and bad, firing up her team and the fans. This all goes back to the main point here: culture. Moren has built a culture within her program, a culture of success.

The Hoosiers won the Big Ten title last year but did not achieve their postseason goals. However, Coach Moren has continued Indiana's winning with another great season. The success couldn’t have been more apparent on Thursday, as the Hoosiers played phenomenally and won handily 86-69. They played great defense on Clark, and the fans could tell they played together with joy as the game continued. 

Hoosier fans wish they could say the same about Mike Woodson and the men’s team, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. They seem uninterested in the game sometimes and don’t seem to be playing with joy.

Mackenzie Mgbako was a five star recruit, but at times plays lazily, Xavier Johnson was supposed to be a senior captain, but instead has the most technical/flagrant fouls in the Big Ten and the rest of the team has not lived up to expectations. They went on a 21-4 run in the second half of the Nebraska game to cut the Husker lead to three, but after that, they did not seem locked into the game. They ended up losing by 15, which resulted in scattered “fire Woodson” chants throughout the crowd. 

While a coaching change does not seem imminent, it’s not an outrageous take to believe Woodson should be out as head coach. This is evident in the passion of the players and the passion of Woodson himself. He seems disinterested at times and rarely fires up his team in good stretches or bad. He is 65, which is a factor, but several coaches at or above his age show more fire than Woodson ever has. For some, this is why he has to go, which is justified due to the play on the court.

One last story to wrap it up comes from the same game that's been mentioned already several times: the women’s win against Iowa. That story is short and to the point: while the rest of Assembly Hall was rowdy and cheering for every second of the game, the men’s players watching the game, a solid majority of the roster, were utterly disinterested in what was happening.

While most ladies stood for most of the game, the men’s players sat the entire time. The men's team seemed uninterested, even when Kal'el Ware dunked the ball. However, the ladies' bench went wild when Mackenzie Holmes or Sara Scallia hit a shot.

It’s evident that the women love playing basketball, they love playing together and they love IU, but based on Thursday night, the men simply do not live for the game, or at least they don’t present themselves that way.

Maybe it’s the coaching or the players themselves, but something has to change, and it would all start with modeling the program after the women’s team. Teri Moren and her staff have done an incredible job, while Mike Woodson and the company have fallen short time and time again.

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