Indiana Hoosiers Send a Message with Upset of Kentucky, but Are They Contenders?
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When Christian Watford's three-pointer went in as time expired, it not only gave the Indiana Hoosiers a 73-72 victory over No. 1 Kentucky, but it also sent a loud message to the college basketball world that Indiana basketball has returned to national relevance after a three-year hiatus.
"It's indescribable," Watford told ESPN reporters about the shot. "I don't even know what happened. I couldn't really tell you. I haven't felt anything like that. It's probably the most memorable moment of my life, definitely my life."
What Watford was unable to describe, however, was the fact that his shot and Indiana's victory has the Hoosiers ranked for the first time in 1,372 days—the longest drought of that nature in school history—as well as being a signature win for fourth-year head coach Tom Crean.
The first three years under Crean were frustrating, humbling and—at times—embarrassing for a fan base accustomed to being in the NCAA tournament and competing for Big Ten Conference titles every single year.
Many of the problems Crean inherited were courtesy of Kelvin Sampson's scandalous exit due to repeatedly making inadmissible phone calls to recruits.
Crean had just one scholarship player left before the start of his first season in 2008-09 season after Eric Gordon left for the NBA Draft, D.J. White graduated, two other players transferred and three others were kicked off the team. Despite all of this, Crean brought in a seven-man recruiting class featuring Rivals Top 150 players Verdell Jones and Nick Williams.
Crean's first three teams posted an overall record of 28-66 and an 8-46 record in Big Ten play, which saw them finish last place in the conference twice as well as a tie for ninth place.
Can Indiana win the Big Ten this season?
All of this made Indiana's upset victory that much more emotional and exciting for the Hoosiers, who now have hopes of competing for the Big Ten title this season and making a run in the NCAA tourney in March, but it is time for a slight reality check.
Yes, it is true the Hoosiers beat a No. 1 team for the first time since 2001 when they upset the Michigan State Spartans in buzzer beater fashion.
Yes, it is true Tom Crean took Marquette to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in his fourth season as their head coach.
Yes, it is true Indiana will only need to finish with a .500 record in Big Ten play to make the tournament this season. However, is that actually attainable, or are Hoosier and casual basketball fans caught up in the moment of the biggest upset so far this season and one of the best games we will see all year?
The Hoosiers have won their biggest game on the schedule so far, but North Carolina State is the only other team with a winning record they have played, and the final seven minutes of the second half against Kentucky left a lot to be desired.
Indiana blew a 10-point lead twice late in the second half. They were bailed out by missed free throws, Kentucky foul trouble early in the first half and Anthony Davis' fourth foul with 12 minutes remaining In addition, Terrence Jones had just four points and six turnovers.
By no means am I saying Kentucky lost the game as opposed to Indiana winning it. I am simply pointing out Indiana beat Kentucky at their worst so far this season in an emotional home game and showed they still have a lot to prove before they can be considered a contender in the Big Ten.
We will find out how good Indiana really is when they open Big Ten play on the road against No. 23 Michigan State, which will be followed by home games against No. 2 Ohio State and No. 18 Michigan.
This stretch—in addition to second match-ups with Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and a road game against No. 15 Wisconsin—will provide tough tests and more opportunities to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.
Indiana basketball is back in the national news again for all the right reasons, but let's wait and see how the Hoosiers fair in this year's Big Ten schedule before we say these are your father's Indiana Hoosiers again.
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