I live in Indiana. The state worships basketball, with the Hoosiers being the undisputed kings of the state. Sure, there are a lot of Purdue fans and Butler has gained a major following with their runs in the last two NCAA Tournaments, but the Indiana Hoosiers, with Bob Knight in the role of god, are the main church in the state. for many, the last few years have been rough as the flaming wreckage of the Kelvin Sampson debacle banished them to the Big Ten’s basement for three years, but with freshman Cody Zeller (a major in-state recruiting find) Indiana had a lot of hope for this year.
Fast forward to this past Saturday. Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating three-pointer toppled No. 1 Kentucky and gave the Hoosiers their most significant win in almost a decade. The fans rushed the floor, and suddenly all the bandwagoners came out of the woodwork. Indiana basketball was back. In their minds, it was 1987 all over again and another National title was pre-ordained.
While the win was fantastic for a program that has been down, in the long run it means nothing unless the Hoosiers develop consistency. That has been their biggest problem over the past few years. They will play well for stretches, but they cannot put it together for any length of time. The time for excuses is gone, however. This is the fourth year under coach Tom Crean, and he has had two top ten recruiting classes. There no longer is a talent gap that some perceived.
Zeller has made the biggest difference for Indiana. The freshman center is one of the most talented big men in the nation. He learned from his brothers Tyler and Luke. Tyler is currently starring at North Carolina, but Cody may be the most talented of the three Zeller brothers. He provides a major presence in the middle offensively and defensively for Indiana. if the Hoosiers are going to maintain this solid start, it will come from him.
Wins in December over the No. 1 team are great, but they ultimately mean nothing in March. I have seen a number of Indiana fans this week that just assume another national championship is only a matter of time, but they still have to negotiate a difficult Big Ten schedule that presents a number of challenges. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are still the class of that conference. Illinois and Michigan will also present difficult challenges. That’s without considering the fact that Indiana only won because Kentucky made multiple mistakes in the final five seconds, and any competent basketball team defends the in bounds pass or fouls (with fouls to give) before a potential game-winner can be taken.