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March 24, 2012 Comments off

Indiana Celebrates win over Kentucky

It has been a memorable season for the Indiana Hoosiers, and the future looks even brighter.

Remember the days when Tom Crean and the Hoosiers were coming to play and every one could mark that game down as an automatic win? It wasn’t that long ago the Hoosiers were dead last in the Big Ten and the laughing stock of the league.

The past three years have been hell for a program that is used to 20 plus win seasons, not 20 plus losses. IU was an elite program before Kelvin Sampson made it mediocre in just over a year and a half.

Though, the days of mediocrity and finishing dead last in the Big Ten are over, at least in the decent future.

Indiana is back to being Indiana and the Hoosiers EARNED everything to get back to this point.

Just look back to the pre-season where most people were predicating another bottom half of the Big Ten finish for the Hoosiers.  Everyone agreed that the Hoosiers would be better and would not finish dead last, but there was still doubt that IU would be a tournament team.

IU headed into the season with a lot of confidence and hopes to restore a program back to “elite” status.

Even though IU rolled off to an 8-0 start, there were still doubts about IU. Everyone could see the Hoosiers were a better team than a year ago, but not everyone believed IU had yet to face a team of high caliber.

IU would play that team of high caliber on Dec. 10 in Assembly Hall when they hosted No. 1, undefeated Kentucky.

Hoosier Nation came out in full force to support their team, just like they have been the previous three seasons. This was a statement game for IU.

If Indiana would to win the game, it would give much needed momentum to a momentum-less program.

As we all know by now, IU won the game in dramatic fashion and produced one of the most exciting games college basketball has seen for a long time.

Despite the win for IU, not many were buying Indiana stock.

Like the old saying goes, a broken clock is still right twice a day.

The good news for this IU team was more opportunities, especially with Ohio State heading into Assembly Hall on New Years Eve.

After getting knocked back at Michigan State, the critics were out in full force again when the Hoosiers welcomed in No. 2 Ohio State to Bloomington.

Thad Matta and Ohio State have dominated the Big Ten in recent memory. The Buckeyes are a program that everyone dislikes but wishes they could resemble their success.

Tom Crean after Ohio State

Tom Crean celebrates a 74-40 win over #2 Ohio State in Bloomington on Dec. 31, 2011.

After putting Anthony Davis on the bench for most of the game when IU played Kentucky, the question now was could Cody Zeller match up with Jared Sullinger.

Zeller didn’t dominate Sullinger but he made him earn everything he got, as the Hoosers ended up winning another dramatic game in Assembly Hall, knocking off Ohio State 74-70.

Indiana beat the two top ranked teams in the country in one month, which hasn’t happened since the 2007-08 Kansas Jayhawks.

IU was heading into 2012 with a full head of steam, but a challenging Big Ten Conference slate was approaching

Despite the optimism, IU still had a lot to prove. The Hoosiers had only won one Big Ten road game in the previous three seasons and IU still had to take care of their home court against premier conference opponents.

IU had to do something they haven’t done in a while, be consistent.

The Hoosiers kept building momentum at the start of the new year by knocking off 13th ranked Michigan in Assembly Hall, and the Hoosiers followed it up with a big road win at Penn State, when the Lions were coming off a 20 point beat down of Purdue.

Though, that positive momentum would soon come to a screeching halt.

IU would go on to lose at home to Minnesota, which was one of the next five losses in their next seven games.

All of a sudden a team that was held up highly was now being criticized and told the start of the season was just a fluke.

IU’s next game following that awful stretch of seven games was at archrival Purdue, a team that has been IU’s biggest nightmare the previous three seasons.

IU had won two Big Ten road games heading into Mackey Arena on Feb. 4, and those lone two wins were both at Penn State. The odds of IU making their third road win coming in hostile Mackey Arena was slim, but the Hoosiers were able to perform well with their backs against the wall yet again.

Indiana went into Mackey Arena and pulled out an 18-point win and was arguably the turning point of the season for Indiana. IU would go on to only lose one game the rest of the regular season, a stretch that included a win over No. 5 Michigan State in Bloomington.

IU was roaring into the Big Ten Tournament and was a popular pick to win the tournament, but the biggest disappointment was not that IU got ousted early in the tourney; it was the ACL tear of Verdell Jones III.

Even with the loss of Jones in their minds, the Hoosiers did not quit. They earned a four seed in the NCAA Tournament and were just happy to be back playing in the NCAA Tourney, let alone winning a game in the tourney.

Don Fischer, legendary voice of the Indiana Hoosiers, said on my radio show before the tournament, “Luke, any win IU gets in the tournament is gravy on top of the season.”

If Fischer was right, IU added a lot of gravy on top of the season. Hoosiers battled past New Mexico State in the first game but it was the come form behind victory against VCU that stood out the most in the Sweet 16 run for the Hoosiers.

Tom Crean coaches against Kentucky

Indiana head coach Tom Crean gives his team instructions during a 102-90 loss to Kentucky in the regional semi-finals of the NCAA Tournament.

Then came the rematch with Kentucky last night, a match-up that had Hoosier Nation wondering what to expect from their overachieving Hoosiers.

What did Hoosier Nation get? They got the same thing they have gotten all season: hard work, great effort, and left everything out on the floor. Indiana did not win the game and move on to the Elite 8, but the Hoosiers sure made Kentucky earn their Sunday match-up with Baylor.

With a top-ten recruiting class coming in next year, IU basketball is heading back into the right direction.

Indiana dug a huge hole when they hired Kelvin Sampson, and no one could be blamed for that hire other than IU.

IU may not be back to “elite” status yet but beating three top-five teams, earning a four seed in the NCAA Tournament and making it to the Sweet 16 for the first time in over a decade is not bad for a bounce back season.

Tom Crean knew it would be a battle and knew it would take a lot of time, but the Hoosiers are not only out of a deep hole…they are back on the college basketball map.

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