Indiana vs. Syracuse: Does Hoosiers' Sweet 16 Flop Make Season a Bust?
A preseason No. 1 ranking.
Multiple stints atop the polls during the season.
An outright Big Ten championship, the school's first since 1993.
There's a lot to be proud of in Indiana's 2012-13 season. But without that sixth national championship banner to hang in Assembly Hall, does it all ring hollow?
IU's 61-50 loss to Syracuse in the East Regional semifinal ended the season that marked Indiana's return as a true national power. Bringing everyone back from a team that scrapped with the eventual national champion in the previous year's Sweet 16 tends to breed expectations.
Most observers expected an Indiana player to rank among the postseason player of the year candidates. However, it was supposed to be sophomore Cody Zeller, not junior Victor Oladipo, who has already established himself as one of the most enjoyable Hoosiers ever, even if he leaves for the NBA draft.
IU thrived with the inside-out production of Zeller and Oladipo, augmented by the experience of seniors Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, the prodigious cool of freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell and the fire of sixth man Will Sheehey.
But now that the season is over, what of the future?
Hulls and Watford are certainly gone. Oladipo is very likely to leave, and Zeller—once considered a certain top-five pick in the draft—has seen his stock take a beating comparable to the poundings he's taken against strong bigs like Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe and Syracuse's Baye Moussa Keita.
Ferrell was the only member of the heralded 2012 recruiting class to make any consistent contributions, and the likelihood is strong that multiple members of the 2013 class will need to step up immediately.
It's presumptuous to think that the championship window has completely closed, because Kentucky proved that the right blend of freshmen and veterans can form an unstoppable machine. A second straight strong freshman class, combined with the returns of players like Sheehey, Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell, could threaten to make a national semifinal run of its own next season.
Still, the actors who topped the marquee as Indiana began the movie that was supposed to end with confetti raining down will be gone.
The guys like Watford and Hulls, who experienced the depths of the crater left by ex-coach Kelvin Sampson, won't be there.
Zeller, whose choice of IU over the chance to play with his brother at North Carolina cemented IU's return as a recruiting force, might depart.
Those guys' stories are the truly compelling ones, and they're not getting the ending that the Hollywood writers would have produced. Some other guys will have to be the ones who get that confetti shower.
It'll lack the fairy-tale aspect that the Hoosier faithful would have hoped for, but by then, the fans won't care quite as much as they do right now. A title is a title, no matter the guys who produce it.
Right now, in the moment of defeat, all is doom and gloom. It takes time and perspective to truly absorb where you are in relation to where you've been.
Until the last 14 minutes or so of this season—when Syracuse rebuffed the run that cut IU's deficit to six points—there wasn't much about the 2012-13 campaign that could be considered a failure. That will become clear in time.
Mourn as long as you must. The smiles will come in time.
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