Mar 29, 2013, 1:50 AM EDT
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Started from the bottom …
Christian Watford committed to Indiana on September 9th, 2008. That was six-and-a-half months after Kelvin Sampson was bought out of his contract by Indiana in the throes of Big Ten play while Indiana was going through an NCAA investigation for illegal phone calls Sampson made.
When Jordan Hulls committed to Indiana on May 20th, 2008, it was just two months after the Hoosiers, a team that had ridden Eric Gordon and DJ White to a No. 8 ranking earlier that season, bowed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed.
Neither player wavered from their commitment to Tom Crean’s program despite the fact that they stood idly by as high school seniors, watching the 2009 version of the Hoosiers finish with all of six wins, going just 1-17 in the Big Ten. They didn’t transfer after going 10-21 as freshmen or 12-20 as sophomores. Those two laid the foundation for the rebuild of Indiana, taking a program that had been napalmed by Sampson as he departed and turning it back into one of the elite.
One day, whether it’s in a week or a month or a decade, those two will be able to look back on what they accomplished and be proud of it. They will be able to pride themselves on the sheer determination that it took to grow an outright Big Ten champion and a No. 1 seed out of the smoldering ashes of that 2008 team.
But that won’t happen quickly, not when Indiana’s season came to a screeching halt on Thursday night. No. 4 seed Syracuse simply overwhelmed the Hoosiers with their zone, forcing 19 turnovers and holding Indiana to one of their worst offensive performances of the season in a 61-50 win.
“There will be a time to celebrate ‘em, but they’ve done things that have not been done in Indiana in a long, long time,” head coach Tom Crean said after the game. “They did it from scratch. I think that every once in a while it’s easy to forget that.”
As talented as Indiana is, Syracuse simply provided the kind of length and athleticism that Indiana had never seen before. “Not too may teams are used to our zone,” Cuse guard Brandon Triche said after the game, and he’s right. Michael Carter-Williams is 6-foot-6 with go-go-gadget arms. Brandon Triche is 6-foot-4. Those two play at the top of the patented Syracuse 2-3 zone. Baye Moussa-Keita and Rakeem Christmas are both pushing seven-feet and man the middle while 6-foot-8 physical specimens CJ Fair, James Southerland and Jerami Grant take up residence on the wings.
Hulls and Yogi Ferrell are 6-foot-nothin’. There’s a reason they combined to go 0-8 from the floor with six turnovers and not a single point.
Cody Zeller struggled with the Syracuse length as well. He finished with ten points and ten boards, but he shot 3-11 from the floor and was completely overwhelmed by the Syracuse front line. The Orange played him an interesting way. When Syracuse got lit up by Georgetown in this very building three weeks ago, it was because they collapsed on Otto Porter every time he touched the ball in the middle of that zone, freeing up the Hoyas sharp-shooters. Jim Boeheim knew that he wouldn’t be able to beat Indiana if he allowed them to get open look after open look from the perimeter, so he opted to let Zeller try to go 1-on-1 with his center.
And it worked.
“[Zeller] got the ball a little bit away from the basket,” Boeheim said. “We forced him where he wasn’t underneath the basket, and we could get help back to him. You know, when one guy stood him up, now he doesn’t have the step to get up in the air so we can come back and get a block in that situation.”
Here’s the irony: Indiana, the best offensive team in the country all season long, according to Kenpom, played well enough on the defensive end of the floor to win. They forced 14 turnovers, they didn’t allow Southerland to get anything going offensively and they only gave up 0.968 PPP. If I told you that heading into Thursday night, few would have guessed that Indiana would have lost that game.
And that has to be the most frustrating part for Indiana.
By picking the wrong night to play their worst offensive game of the season, Indiana cost themselves a chance to cap off a pair of story book careers with the perfect ending: a national title.
“It’s been full of ups and downs,” Watford said, “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love my team and I’m happy to be an Indiana Hoosier.”
This team could have won it all, and with the way that Indiana is recruiting and the talent that they are bringing into the program, that national title may not be all that far off.
Indiana is back on the college basketball map. Watford and Hulls may never play another game in Assembly Hall, but their legacy at Indiana will live on.
… now the whole team here.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT
Arizona State lands its seventh newcomer for the 2014-15 season as forward Willie Atwood picked the Sun Devils over Florida State and Iowa.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT
The NCAA’s Board of Directors released some key decisions on Thursday.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT
Colorado junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie has decided to enter the 2014 NBA Draft.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT
Dan D’Antoni spent 30 years as a high school coach in South Carolina.
Apr 24, 2014, 2:23 PM EDT
Parker is not a fan of forcing players to stay in school for two years.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
There are reports he’s already signed with an agent.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:35 PM EDT
The seven-footer will miss some time getting a torn labrum repaired.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:56 AM EDT
Roy Williams is not the world’s greatest dancer.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
Kentucky, Kansas and just about every elite program in the country is on the trail of the Haitian.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
It’s pretty funnyl
Apr 24, 2014, 12:57 AM EDT
According to multiple reports, former Georgetown big Moses Ayegba has decided to transfer to Nebraska.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:17 AM EDT
According to a report, UConn center Amida Brimah will need to undergo surgery on his left shoulder.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT
Shaka Smart filled a vacancy on his staff Wednesday, hiring former Vanderbilt assistant David Cason.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT
Less than a week after making an official visit to the school, it was reported that Malek Harris had committed to Kansas State. But that may not be the case.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
Frank Haith announced his coaching staff Wednesday, with the trio combining to have more than 90 seasons of coaching experience.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
UConn and Duke will reportedly play each other just before Christmas in New Jersey.
Apr 23, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT
Former St. John’s commit Darrick Wood verbally committed to attend DePaul on Wednesday.
Apr 23, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
After playing well in Kentucky’s run to the national title game, Dakari Johnson has decided to return for his sophomore season.
Apr 23, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT
LSU should have the pieces to be a tournament team in 2014-2015.
Apr 23, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT
Minnesota landed a commitment from a 6-foot-11 three-star recruit.
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