The Washington Times-Herald

The "Z" Watch

April 11, 2013

IU still working towards sixth banner

WASHINGTON — Monday night in Atlanta, Louisville won the school’s first National Championship since the year I was born - 1986. This accomplishment is significant to Indiana basketball fans, because the last two times the Cardinals cut down the nets (1980, 1986), the Hoosiers did it the following year. The stat, of course means nothing, other than both schools had strong programs in the 1980s.

It’s hard to win a national championship in today’s landscape of “one and done” and AAU era of basketball. Louisville has only been a No. 1 seed three times since that 1986 championship. The 26 years Cardinals fans waited is an eternity, but for the Hoosiers it feels like a century since Keith Smart hit that famous baseline jumper to beat Syracuse in the 1987 final.

At the time Bob Knight and Indiana had just won its third championship in 11 years, and the sky seemed to be the limit. We all know what happened. Damon Bailey couldn’t bring a championship to Bloomington in the early 90s. Knight was fired in 2000 after breaking the University’s zero tolerance policy. New coach Mike Davis and Bloomington North product Jared Jeffries led the Hoosiers to a surprise trip to the 2002 championship game, before losing to champion Maryland.

The 10 years that followed for IU was complete darkness. Davis missed the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2005, and Oklahoma’s Kelvin Sampson was hired.

This is a move that would cripple the Hoosiers until the signing of Washington product Cody Zeller. Tom Crean led the Hoosiers out of darkness and back to the national stage this season, but for the second straight year Indiana lost in the Sweet 16, despite having a preaseason No. 1 ranking.

The fans are already growing impatient with Crean. Each day that goes by is a day further away from when Indiana was on top of the college basketball world. Will they be there again? No one can say for sure. All the stars were aligned this season for Indiana, and they couldn¹t get back to the Final Four.

With junior Victor Oladipo and Zeller declaring for the NBA, along with the graduations of starters Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and reserve Derek Elston, IU will have only one starter back next season. With a highly inexperienced lineup, the drought since the Hoosiers last cut down the nets should reach 27 years.

It won't make IU fans happy, but in 2013, Bloomington, Ind. isn’t a more attractive destination to elite basketball talent than Durham, N.C., Chapel Hill, N.C., Lexington, K.Y., Lawrence, Kan. or even Louisville.

IU has fallen into a similar pit as Notre Dame did for so long since its last championship in 1988. The Hoosiers haven’t been on top in so long, most recruits don’t view IU as a historic program. Since Indiana last won a championship, Duke have won four, North Carolina and Kentucky have three, Florida have won two. The Big Ten has only won two championships (Michigan 1989, Michigan State 2000) as a whole in that time.

Even kids from Indiana are choosing to go out of state. The success of Gary Harris (Big Ten Freshman of the Year), along with Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III helping Michigan reach the National Championship Game didn't go unnoticed across the state. When you’re not on top, getting elite players year after year is easy, but once you have been down for nearly three decades like IU has, it becomes a near impossible uphill climb.

Rick Pitino and Louisville completed the uphill climb, but the loss of Zeller, Oladipo, Watford and Hulls will only make Crean’s journey to the sixth banner even tougher.

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