An excerpt from my Sunday print column:
The question you were asking yourself before Indiana began the 2013-14 season is the same one you were asking as the final seconds of Thursday’s Big Ten Tournament loss to Illinois ticked off the clock.
Who are the Hoosiers?
Individually speaking, they are who we thought they were, to borrow a line. The outline has been fleshed out a bit for each player, but the singular strengths and weaknesses remain well-defined.
The same goes for the team as a whole, where the outside shooting struggles and turnover issues were countered by strengths on the glass and in the paint.
But that still doesn’t answer the question. As a matter of fact, there is no answer to the question, and that’s the most significant aspect of this season.
Indiana had — make that has, since the season may not be over yet — no identity.
An identity is what makes a team recognizable or definable. It’s a consistent characteristic that shows up in prosperity and adversity.
It’s what leads to phrases like “The Butler Way” or “The Carolina Way.”
It’s what keeps TV announcers from discussing Michigan State without using the word “toughness,” or Wisconsin without discussing the swing offense.
Think identifiable college basketball terminology and you come up with things like the “UCLA cut” or “Syracuse zone.”
Time was that Indiana was easily associated with the motion offense and man-to-man denial defense. Did those things lead to winning in and of themselves? Absolutely not. But there was a blueprint, a philosophy that shaped the program year in and year out.
Whether it’s broad terms or a specific aspect of the game, most successful programs can point to something as the fulcrum of success, even as the scales shift from one end to another from time to time.
What’s that going to be with these Hoosiers?
It might be a trick question, because if there’s not an answer, then IU won’t be identified as a successful program.