By Dennis Glade
Washington Times Herald
Indiana University men’s basketball isn’t back yet, because as Tom Crean has famously said, “This is Indiana.”
The Hoosiers enter the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the AP and USA Today polls, which has Bloomington thinking about the program’s first National Championship in 26 years, a time when most IU undergrads weren’t even born.
The rebuilding of the Hoosiers historic basketball program by Crean has been nothing short of outstanding in his four years in Bloomington. Crean came to town ready to continue the tradition that Branch McCracken and Bobby Knight instilled in the men’s basketball program with 1,026 victories and five national titles. After the program was completely gutted following the firing of then head coach Kelvin Sampson, Crean was left with one player from the 2007-08 team, walk-on Kyle Taber.
Last year’s 27-win season, which ended with a Sweet 16, immediately had analysts and Hoosier fans alike thinking about IU raising its sixth championship banner in 2013. The Hoosiers will begin their march towards the Final Four in Atlanta with the home opener Nov. 9 against the Bryant University Bulldogs.
As an IU alum, you can not go more than a day on campus without being reminded of the five banners hanging in the Assembly Hall rafters, a constant reminder of what is expected from the men’s basketball team. When Christian Watford’s game-winning three pointer swished through the net to upset No. 1 Kentucky last December at Assembly Hall, IU moved closer to relevancy, but they weren’t back yet. When the Hoosiers lost to arch rival Kentucky in the Sweet 16 they appeared on the cusp of something great. Championships are how fans gauge the success, not just regular season wins. This is the same logic that has been the ammunition that every IU fan has used against in-state rival Purdue. The Hoosiers have five championships, and the Boilermakers have none, making them the permanent little brother to the cream and crimson when it comes to basketball in the state of Indiana as far as the Hoosiers see it.
The term of a team being “back”, as many people use it, is hard to judge as often as the term is thrown out these days. For example, in the case of Tiger Woods you often hear that Woods and his 14 Major Championships are ‘back’. Woods hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, so that word doesn’t make much sense to me. He has won numerous tournaments, but has wilted in recent majors. I use the same logic with the Hoosiers. IU hasn’t won a title since 1987, but they are preseason No. 1 so according to this logic they must be back, not so fast.
Knight didn’t earn his reputation as one of the best college basketball coaches of all time with big regular season wins, but by winning games year in and year out in March and sometimes April. IU’s fan base demands such high expectations, despite more than two decades without raising a banner. Crean has nabbed some big recruits over the last two years, but none bigger than Cody Zeller. Zeller is the third in a line of three brothers all seven-footers who have played division one basketball. Zeller’s outstanding freshman season, which saw him lead the Hoosiers in points and rebounds per game, as well as steals, assists and field goal percentage, suddenly made a sixth banner seem like a realistic goal.
As the preseason No. 1, the Hoosiers are in prime position to raise their sixth banner this April. If they accomplish this goal they will be back, but not until then.
After all, this is Indiana.