Nine entire seasons.
1973, 1975, 1976, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2007, and 2016 to be precise.
Throughout most of its 48 year history, Indiana basketball’s current home arena has been a veritable “hall of horrors” for those who have dared to enter.
Those nine seasons Indiana went undefeated at home, including a stretch from February 1991 to January 1995 without a single blemish at the friendly confines.
For this writer, losing at home was almost literally unheard of. Entering IU as freshman in 1991, I didn’t see a home loss until my senior year. There were no gimmicky student section names, no gimmicky big heads, and no gimmicky rehearsed chants.
There was just raw, unbridled — and unmatched — passion.
While the energy has ebbed and flowed since then, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall has for the most part remained a nightmare for visitors.
It wasn’t just a Bob Knight thing, and it wasn’t just the elite IU teams either.
Even the postseason-less 2013-14 Hoosiers knocked off four ranked teams in Bloomington during Big Ten play, spawning memorable signs in the student section like this one.
Ranked or otherwise, if you were coming to play in Bloomington, you had better fasten that chin strap a little extra tight.
ESPN commentator Jay Bilas referred to Indiana’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall as “Two walls of red, with a game in the middle of it” after calling a contest between IU and Duke in 2017. “My ears are still ringing,” Bilas said.
In 2016, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said this about the environment inside the building:
“It was a wonderful crowd. Gosh. I’d like to play in front of a crowd like that in the Smith Center every night other than the frickin’ Duke game. And that was just – congratulations to them, their fans, their students. It was a big-time crowd.”
When St. Francis head coach Rob Krimmel found out that his team would be opening the 2019 NIT in Bloomington, he couldn’t get there fast enough to soak in everything that is this iconic college basketball mecca.
But then, Krimmel and his Red Flash squad were playing at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in the NIT. And a major reason why the Hoosiers were playing in college basketball’s postseason consolation prize?
They haven’t been winning at home.
For as much as the Hoosiers’ home court has impressed the likes of blue blood powers like Duke and North Carolina, the much more recent reality is well, less than impressive.
IU head coach Archie Miller realizes this better than anyone.
“For us to be at our best against the Big Ten, we have to win at home,” Miller said.
Perhaps as an ominous sign of things to come, the Miller era at Indiana began with a 90-69 home loss to none other than in-state mid major Indiana State. That was soon followed by a 92-72 loss to Fort Wayne.
After winning 84 percent of their home games during the first 46 seasons playing at Assembly Hall, Indiana has won just 69 percent of its games in Bloomington during the last two campaigns. That latter figure includes winning just 60 percent of home games against power five opponents.
It isn’t clear how you instill the will to protect the home court, but it is something that Miller assured us was happening behind the scenes.
“That’s one of the big things with this team this offseason is understanding how important it is to play at Assembly and hold your home court,” Miller said.
The now third year head coach recognizes that a lot of mishaps on the road can be virtually erased with a near flawless record at home.
“We should be at some level, hopefully unstoppable in there,” Miller said.
With a passionate fan based and an acoustically friendly building, that is something that has seemingly always been attainable in the past.
Miller knows that rekindling that home court magic is the key to getting Indiana back into the kind of postseason that program is historically accustomed to.
And for Miller, it starts with having the right kind of mentality and focus for home games.
“This team has to have more of a concentration level about playing at home in the Big Ten, because if you do that, you are going to be in a great situation to do what you want towards the end of the year.”
Conversely, when your home floor starts to get cozy for a team like Nebraska, who has won on their last two trips to Bloomington, you probably don’t have the right mentality, and you probably don’t get to do what you want towards the end of the year.
That is certainly the case if you are losing at home to the likes of Indiana State and Fort Wayne, and collectively now the Hoosiers have missed the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons.
Perhaps the Hoosiers have already turned a corner?
IU did close out the 2018-19 regular season with three straight home Big Ten wins, including “spankings” of ranked Michigan State and Wisconsin teams.
While encouraging, it’s probably much too soon to suggest that the magic is back on the McCracken Court.
But it’s a start.
And as Miller knows, if he’s going to right the ship, a lot more high profile head coaches need to be leaving Bloomington with their tails between their legs, wondering how they can get their home court rocking and producing wins like frickin’ IU.
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