Indiana Basketball – why do IU fans torture themselves by continuing to watch?

When Isiah Thomas and Bob Knight found a rhythm in 1981, so did the Hoosiers as they won an NCAA Championship.

Why do I watch every Indiana game from start to finish?

Indiana fans are among the most ardent in college basketball.  After a monotonous and historic run of mediocre basketball, Hoosiers still block out two-plus hours of their lives to watch.  No matter the opponent, stakes, or apparent level of futility, we still show up wearing red and while – even alone in our homes.

The question of why I keep coming back has echoed in my head for years.  Through the meager Tom Crean years at the beginning of the rebuild he directed through its inevitable demise, and now during four hopeless years under Archie Miller, I continue to show up to see if they make the changes to become a competent unit.

It’s rare that I am pleased with the style or effort during an IU game.  Maybe I enjoyed the Florida State game (a loss) because it seemed the team had finally decided to embrace the necessity of everyone energetically working in harmony.

My love for Indiana Basketball dates back to my freshman year in Bloomington when the Hoosiers evolved from a very ordinary team with a 7-5 record to become a relentless storm of pure basketball excellence during a dominant NCAA Tournament run that ended with a 63-50 win over North Carolina.

The difference between a disjointed roster and coach and one that played with total unanimity of purpose was there for anyone to see during that season.  early in the season, Bob Knight fought with Isiah Thomas over style of play, and Landon Turner had great talent but none of the energy needed to unlock it.

Then the switch flipped.

Knight turned Isiah loose and Ray Tolbert, among others, compelled Turner to explode as one of the country’s best players.  Suddenly, the team that was so easily beaten in December became an impossible to contend with juggernaut in February and March.  It was right there in front of us as I lived in the glow of Assembly Hall right across 17th Street in Briscoe Quad.

When people look at the game by game results of the 1981 Hoosiers, they see nine losses and conclude this was an OK team that got hot at the right time.  That wasn’t the thing at all.  Indiana evolved from a collection of disparate parts clunking across the Assembly Hall floor into a finely tuned instrument of winning basketball.  Every possession was a well-executed masterclass, and opponents wilted under the pressure of matching IU’s near perfection.

It was during that run 40 years ago as potential and reality merged that I fell in love with Indiana Basketball.  The possibility of seeing it again has kept me coming back through more than 1,000 games.  The Hoosiers have never approached the beauty of that 1981 team, but there have been nibbles toward it in 1987, 1992, 1993, 2002, and 2013.

So I keep watching in the hopes that whomever the coach is can get players to buy into the majesty of basketball played by those with an unshakeable commitment to the game and each other.

Often coaches believe it is up to them to outsmart their opponent, but true leaders are committed to binding talented players as a whole to form one heart and one mind.  Great basketball is like jazz – if great talents embrace a common rhythm and melody, a transcendent moment occurs for players and its audience.  If talented musicians each try to take for themselves rather than give to the whole, the music breaks down into a hideous cacophony.

Indiana Basketball has not made beautiful music for a long time, and I’m not sure Miller is the conductor to compel its creation – or the understanding of the sacrifices that cause it.

The 1981 Indiana team had raw talent, devotion to one other, and a selfless leadership to attain the highest form of the game I have ever seen.  They took fans on a unique goosepimply ride to a championship. That’s why I come back.  I want that ride again.

It’s not likely to happen tomorrow against Rutgers, but I will watch because…you never know.


11 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – why do IU fans torture themselves by continuing to watch?

  1. Mark Wright

    Kent: I think your premise is mistaken. My various circles of friends are littered with IU alums, many of whom were at IU for one or two NCAA championships (the kind of experiences that dye your allegiance in the wool). I was in undergrad in 81 and Law School in 87. Of those dozens of people, I may know one who still watches religiously. Most of us check out the score now and then on our phones or watch 5 minutes (just long enough to see IU go 1 for 14 from the floor), but we don’t watch. As a matter of fact, our group jokes that some times, we don’t even know when IU plays (or we forget). There is no bigger incitement of where this program is right now. We don’t care. We bitch, but we’re not really passionate. Nothing to be passionate about. Thanks

  2. J. Humphrey

    My son and I are going to the Rutgers game on Thursday. We are there to break their slump in their shooting! Fingers are crossed!

  3. Steve

    I was a freshman as well during that 1981 championship (Foster). I haven’t watched a game in at least a month. I’ve seen maybe half the games this year. IU hasn’t been must see TV for years. Ironically, football has become a must watch event, but basketball no longer is. Sports is supposed to be entertaining…fun. If it’s not, why watch?

  4. Brian

    Sometimes I feel like I need to watch IU play ala “Clockwork Orange” style. These last fours have been quite frustrating. Their no free flow to what IU does out there on either side of the floor.

    I will always love IU basketball and eagerly wait for the days when they are a legit annual contender.

  5. Bear

    I can’t believe all of the so-called IU aficionados who criticize the current coach and team, and long for the “good ole” days when IU was at the top of NCAA basketball. About 20 years ago, a large portion of these same folks were carrying torches and pitchforks ready to toss a coach like Knight out on the scrap heap. Archie. I guess that you can get ready for your turn on that scrap heap. It’s disgusting.

    Indiana deserves where it is at, a perennial “wanna be” in a sea of “wanna bes”.

    1. Mark Wright

      Yeah, and I’ll bet if you went to the symphony for years and then they changed the conductor (and sucks) and they changed the musicians (many of whom suck), you’d still waste your time going and spend your money and cheer loudly for the symphony. And your the boss who praises a salesman while he’s killing it for the company, but when he drops of the map in productivity, you’d keep him on because you didn’t want to be a band wagon fan. Nobody beats the drum for bad musicians, bad sports teams or bad anything. You must be a unicorn.

    2. Matt Moore

      What is there not to believe? When coaches lose, they get fired. That is how the coaching profession works. Archie Miller has millions of reasons to not feel sorry for him.

      If you had a job where you were making in excess of three million dollars a year, you would expect lofty expectations in return. And if you failed to meet those expectations for four years, with no signs of positive change on the horizon, what would you expect to happen?

      College basketball at the Big Ten level is big, big business. And these coaches are getting rich doing it. Why in the heck would Indiana University, or any other Big Ten school settle for the product that Archie Miller has produced at Indiana?

      I will never understand folks like you who think that a coach should not be criticized. He is sitting at the big boy table now, at a school with a rabid fan base. He knew this before he threw his name in the ring, and packed home a pile of cash. He is not going to find any sympathy at my house.

  6. Tj

    Being a Indiana guy and takingi my son as young kid and then my grand sons my nephews and many other family members or the years has been something non e of them will for ever forget . Being there and knowing you always had a chance to win was second to none ! Needless to say things have changed .The game is played differently as well as coached differently. None of us true fans like where the teams have been over the last years but we all still have the pride and love being INDIANA HOOSIER FANS ! ! ! We all don’t watch as much as we did but we do check in looking for a win .

  7. Neil Alan Dixon

    I am not sure a new coach is the answer. Indiana, much like Notre Dame in football or even UCLA in basketball, due to their past greatness, have to play to a standard beyond the other teams and I am not sure today’s kids either have it in them or that coaches like Bob Knight could coach now. It took someone with a very “compelling” and demanding style to mold those teams. To make my point look at Kentucky and Kansas and Duke and North Carolina. According to the level of stars they have recruited and recruit every year, they should be great all the time and they aren’t doing much better than IU. To be hones, I can’t stand to watch basketball much any more. Nothing about it inspires me any more and its not just because IU isn’t doing well right now. Please… anyone tell me about or show me a really “great” team out there. I don’t see one.

    1. Steve Ronske

      I generally agree. NO WAY a coach like Bob
      Knight would last more than a week in today’s
      “Empowered Student-Athlete” climate. I also find myself watching less and less basketball.
      I lost all interest in the NBA about a decade ago. The college game has been increasingly resembling the NBA: just a sloppy, undisciplined exercise. I think the 3-point shot and AAU ball have done the game a tremendous amount of damage.

  8. Greg Denny

    I’m an old bastard and am watching a IU game now. The Bob Knight curse will go on forever. Because of what they did to Mr. Knight.


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