by Kyle Miller
It certainly wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t pretty, poetic or even fun to watch, but Indiana’s win last night was its biggest in four years under Tom Crean.
Let’s be honest, upsetting Pittsburgh two years ago at Madison Square Garden was a fluke, and beating Illinois and Minnesota was encouraging, but both those teams immensely underachieved last year. Routing Evansville at the Ford Center was impressive, but not as impressive as the Butler win.
Indiana didn’t play well – especially in the first half. They shot 32 percent in the first half, 40 percent for the game, committed 16 turnovers and gave up 16 offense rebounds.
Christian Watford and Verdell Jones III combined to go 2-for-13 for a total of nine points and six turnovers – Yikes. That’s not strong considering those two players led IU in scoring last year.
Butler came in with nothing to lose and everything to gain. At 3-2 the Bulldogs scrapped, clawed and kept it close against the heavily favored Hoosiers. The Hoosiers looked as if they would pull away multiple times, but could never bury the Bulldogs. Butler was doing what all underdogs try to do – keep the game close, put pressure on the favored squad, and give themselves a chance at the end of the game.
Considering all that, the adversity, the poor shooting, the turnovers, IU did what haunted them the previous three years –closing the game. When things got tough, IU would quiver and self-implode, but Monday was different. They stepped to it.
They showed maturity, confidence and toughness. They finally showed they had some balls. It wasn’t how they played, but it was how they won. When you beat five straight teams by 20-plus points and then find yourself in a dogfight, it’s easy to panic, especially against a team you know you should beat.
Indiana persisted. They dove on loose balls. They found the open man. And they did it when everything wasn’t going exactly to the plan.
IU’s performance still wasn’t good enough. After all, it was against a depleted Butler team still learning how to function without Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, Shawn Vanzant and Zach Hahn, and it was even at Assembly Hall in front of a home crowed of 17,265 fans.
Whooping up on cupcakes like Savannah State, Stony Brook and Gardner Webb is all gravy, but that doesn’t put banners in the rafters. It’s nice that IU is once again beating these teams like a drum, but lets not jump to conclusions. The best win on IU’s schedule is beating Butler (3-3) at home.
Am I excited for what Indiana basketball has done thus far, you bet your mortgage I am, but I have to keep it realistic.
Indiana could be really good this year – really good. That’s why being satisfied now with a 6-0 record and getting three votes in the coaches poll isn’t good enough. Taking back the state isn’t even good enough. Good enough is Big Ten Championships, Final Four appearances and ultimately NCAA National Championships. That’s good enough.
I don’t expect them to turn into the ’76 Hoosiers overnight, but I do expect Hoosier fans to keep the big picture in mind. They aren’t “back” yet, they are leaps and bounds better, but they aren’t back – at least not yet.