FORT WAYNE – You know the image: A rim nailed to the side of a rustic red barn.
Snow on the ground. A winter’s sunset peeking over the fields in back. A young boy launching a basketball repeatedly, a slice of Americana unique to Indiana.
There is a vision people here have for the sport. One of purity, innocence, obsession, reverence and – ultimately – one of success.
There is a reason the Pacers market basketball as Indiana’s game.
As much as it’s played from East Chicago down to Evansville, from Terre Haute over to Richmond, players are supposed to hone their craft. Teams are expected to do well.
Only now, the idyllic vision is askew. Something is off. That rim on the barn? It’s rusty, flimsy, loose and crooked.
The NCAA tournament field announced Sunday night didn’t have any of the state’s 10 Division I teams.
It’s just hard to think of, said Indiana guard Evan Gordon, an Indianapolis native. It’s hard when a state that produces so many NBA and college players has teams with some of those players that don’t go to the tournament.
March Sadness is here.
How did it come to this, a talent-rich state saddled with such a poor fate?
The easy answer: Tough luck.
Steve Forbes’ shot stays down instead of rimming out, and perhaps IPFW wins the Summit League championship game, giving the state a Cinderella story at the Big Dance.
The long answer: Deeper themes are at work.
Indiana, Butler and Purdue – the state’s three marquee programs – went a combined 46-46 in the regular season, losing 38 of 54 conference games.
For the first time since 2005 – and second since 1972 – no Indiana school was invited to college basketball’s main event.
It’s unfortunate for us, said Purdue’s Travis Carroll, a Danville native.
Any Indiana team would be nice. Hopefully next year teams win more.
The trouble began July 3.
Out of nowhere, the Boston Celtics hired Brad Stevens away from Butler. The state lost a young mastermind who authored its two most recent Final Four appearances and won more than 77 percent of his games with the Bulldogs.
After a 10-2 start under rookie coach Brandon Miller, the Bulldogs slumped to 14-17, all while playing in their third conference in three seasons.
Players scoffed when Big East coaches picked Butler to finish ninth, but that’s exactly what happened.
Along the way, five separate Bulldogs were suspended for violating team rules, and bigger, faster and stronger opponents outclassed Miller’s bunch in all facets of the game.
If you don’t have the bigs, you can’t compete sometimes, said Ryan Blake, a longtime college scout of Marty Blake and Associates and head of the NBA’s scouting operations.
Butler failed to win 20 games for the first time since 2005.
You had (Andrew) Chrabascz who played 20 minutes a game for them, a fairly young team with a lot of freshmen playing in a big conference, Blake said.
Meanwhile, inconsistency plagued the Hoosiers.
They gave 38.4 percent of their regular-season minutes to freshmen and fell from a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament last season to national afterthought.
Nothing frustrated fans more than constant mistakes, as Indiana committed turnovers on 21.8 percent of its possessions, the worst rate in the Big Ten and one of the 20 worst in Division I.
We’ll look back at this season and be disappointed with our decision making with the ball, coach Tom Crean said.
Will Sheehey, a senior who moved into the starting lineup for the first time, didn’t find a scoring groove until late February.
He didn’t shoot the ball well, turned the ball over more and had a target, a bull’s-eye on him, Blake said.
The most disturbing trends reared their head in West Lafayette, where coach Matt Painter said it was his fault for a 15-17 season that followed a 16-18 finish the year before.
Painter’s teams were 151-58 during the six-year Baby Boiler era, but recruiting has fallen off in two ways.
Not enough talent, and too little of the right mental makeup.
The undermanned Boilermakers’ effort came and went all season.
We have to recruit a more unselfish player, Painter said. We have to recruit a tougher player. That is my fault. This is not a school district. I recruited these guys.
Since 2007’s haul of E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel, no player at Purdue has matched their star power.
Those guys were special, Painter said. All three were leaders. That was pretty rare, but that’s also your gauge. When guys come through the chute, that’s who you compare them to. That’s your expectation for other guys.
Sophomore A.J. Hammons, a center with the potential to dominate, has rarely done so. His struggles to play hard set the tone for Purdue’s mediocrity.
It wasn’t all bad.
IPFW and Indiana State certainly enjoyed successful seasons.
The Mastodons’ trip to the Summit League title game was their first, and a 24-10 record left coach Tony Jasick getting his team ready to play in the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
Indiana State, which lost to undefeated Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship, earned a spot in the NIT.
A string of four consecutive tournament appearances ended for Notre Dame, which lost leading scorer Jerian Grant to an academic issue in December.
Valparaiso, Ball State, Evansville and IUPUI – four schools with a total of 21 tournament appearances but only two since 2003 – could not ride to the rescue. All but Valparaiso finished under .500, and IUPUI fired coach Todd Howard, who went 26-70 in three seasons.
It’s not pretty when it comes to Indiana teams being shut out of March Madness.
Will it be a shock? Blake said. Yes, it will. It shows you the traditions of what Indiana basketball has been to basketball in general.
Gordon said all towns will feel the pain.
We’re a hotbed of basketball, he said. It’s the capital of basketball. It’ll be shocking for it being one of the only years for an Indiana team not to make it.
Painter isn’t overreacting.
It would be an outlier year, he said. We have a lot of good teams in our state that have had a lot of success getting to the NCAA tournament and being successful in the NCAA tournament. It is a different year for these teams.
I don’t think that’s going to happen very often.