Mark Story

Mark Story: C'mon, UK backers, don't you feel a little sorry for Indiana basketball fans?

If your Twitter timeline resembles mine, there is a good amount of ridicule from Kentucky fans directed at Indiana over the state of Hoosiers men's basketball. A more appropriate emotion would be sympathy.

Of all the truly iconic programs — the creme de la creme of hoopdom, Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, Duke — has any school ever endured such a long slog through relative mediocrity as Indiana these past 20 years?

For all the agitating that goes on here over 10-loss seasons, Indiana has strung together almost two decades of little else.

Over the last 20 seasons, IU has suffered 10 losses or more 16 times. Thanks mostly to the mess left behind by Kelvin Sampson's NCAA scandal, the Hoosiers have endured four losing seasons so far in the 2000s.

For fans of the flagship university of Indiana, a state that relishes basketball at all levels with zeal, it has to be excruciating to be stuck in such a muddle.

Tom Crean's current Hoosiers (8-2, going into Saturday's meeting with Butler) put up a spirited fight against Louisville for 30 minutes last week before watching the game get away late in a 94-74 loss. The Hoosiers have good guards, led by impressive freshman James Blackmon Jr. (son of the former Kentucky Wildcats guard) and junior Yogi Ferrell. Blackmon is averaging 19.2 points and making almost 46 percent of his three-pointers, while Ferrell is at 15.9 ppg and 42.5 percent on treys.

Whether IU has enough on its frontline to help its potent backcourt get Crean off a warming coaching seat will be one of this season's major story lines.

On Sunday, a Boston Globe article speculated over whether an Indiana coaching vacancy might tempt Brad Stevens to leave the Celtics. After his ultra-successful run at Butler, the still boyish-looking Stevens is looked to by many Hoosiers as the chosen one to rescue IU from mediocrity.

Two years ago, no one would have dreamed that Crean would be coaching with the jackals braying for his job. After a run to the NCAA tourney round of 16 in 2012, IU fans began 2012-13 convinced that a Hoosiers squad led by Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo would return the Hoosiers to the Final Four for the first time since the Cinderella run of 2002.

As a No. 1 seed, however, IU was upset in the round of 16 by Syracuse.

The frustration from that pre-mature exit only mounted when Oladipo (second) and Zeller (fourth) went in the top five of the 2013 NBA draft. Indiana's backsliding 17-15 season last year didn't help. Then came an off-season that produced some embarrassing legal issues for IU players.

Put it all together, many believe Crean entered 2014-15 with a tenuous hold on his job, though a $7.5 million buyout (as reported by the Indianapolis Star) the school would owe the coach if it terminated his deal without cause may provide some security.

What has to make Indiana's (mostly) lost decades as a basketball power really sting is that the Hoosiers, in theory, should be in a far stronger position for hoops success than schools like Kentucky, Kansas and Louisville.

Unlike UK, KU and Louisville, who must recruit nationally to thrive, Indiana could be a consistent top-10 program if it could just regularly sign the best players from its state.

From the Class of 2010 through the one that will graduate in 2015, the state of Indiana has put 35 players in the Rivals 150, the recruiting service's annual ranking of the best high school prospects. In the same time frame, the state of Kentucky has had seven players make the Rivals 150.

In Zeller, Ferrell and Blackmon Jr., Crean has had some major in-state "gets." However, schools like Michigan (Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Zak Irvin), Michigan State (Gary Harris, Branden Dawson), Kentucky (Marquis Teague, Trey Lyles) and Ohio State (DeShaun Thomas) have found the poaching bountiful in Indiana.

No school gets every top player from its state, but how different would IU's situation look if it could only convince most of the Hoosier State's best to matriculate in Bloomington?

Instead, a whole generation of basketball fans is growing up with no experience of Indiana as a consistent, first-tier basketball power.

Even here in Kentucky, it should be tough not to feel a little sorry for Hoosiers fans over that.

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