Assembly Hall is always a tough place to play, no matter how good Indiana happens to be in a given season.

That said, the Hoosiers won one game in the Big Ten last year. It’s no secret that Indiana coach Tom Crean is in just his second season of a massive rebuilding project.

And their best player and leading scorer, Maurice Creek, was watching Thursday’s game against the Wolverines from a bed due to the fractured knee he suffered the game before. While Michigan was dealing with some distractions of its own with redshirt freshman Ben Cronin out for the year and Associate Head Coach Jerry Dunn taking a personal leave of absence, the team came into the game at relatively full strength.

The Wolverines had plenty of time to address the shooting woes and defensive toubles that have plagued them all season. Junior Manny Harris also had time to strengthen his nagging hamstring, saying on Monday, that he felt “good,” and while it was still bothering him at times it definitely “feels better.”

Given all of this, this loss begged two pretty obvious questions: if Michigan can’t win this road game, against a 6-6 team that should see improvement from last year but seems destined to finish in the Big Ten cellar, then which road game is it going to win? And more important, what has this team shown us this year that says they are a better team than their record suggests?

The first question is relevant because of the situation the Wolverines have created for themselves. Because they have lost every meaningful road game on their schedule thus far (every Old Spice Classic game, Utah and Kansas come to mind), they have made winning road games in the Big Ten absolutely paramount.

And this, well, wasn’t exactly a giant leap forward in that regard.

Consider that last year, Michigan struggled mightily on the road in the Big Ten — losing at Penn State, at Iowa and barely beating Northwestern — and snuck in because of the nonconference wins it had accumulated at the beginning of the season.

Since the Wolverines have not won a single relevant nonconference game, they not only absolutely have to beat Connecticut when the Huskies come to Crisler Arena Jan. 17, but they also need to pull out some quality Big Ten road games to live up to expectations.

The opportunity for road wins is there — Michigan plays at Penn State (8-5) and at Iowa (5-8). But on the flip side of that, before today many fans would have pointed to this game against Indiana as an excellent opportunity for a solid Big Ten road win.

The second question is just as tough to answer. The fact is, the team’s accomplishments last year are only reason anybody believes this Michigan team can play better than they are playing right now. Heck, their most promising game of the season was against Kansas, and they lost by 11 points. They have done nothing this year to prove to anyone that they are capable of achieving what they achieved a year ago.

In the locker room after the game, sophomore Stu Douglass was asked if this was a step back for the Wolverines.

“A loss is a step back,” he said. “But you know, it’s not going to kill our season.”

He’s right. But while the season and Michigan’s tournament hopes are not dead, they are maimed, beaten, and bruised.

The only way anyone can suggest this team will improve is to reach back to last year. You just can’t point to anything this year that shows they are a team prepared to make the tournament.

Why will the team eventually shoot better? The common refrain has been because supposedly last year they ran the same offense and it worked because they shot the ball better, even though they only shot 33 percent from beyond the arc last year.

Why will the defense eventually improve? Because the 1-3-1 trap worked so much better last year, even though they have 10 more steals this year than they did at the same point last year.

Now, the question is simple: how will this team win as many games as it needs to get into the tournament?

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