One of the greatest things about YouTube are the people who take old sporting events, chop them up into 10-15 minute versions, and post them for the world’s viewing pleasure. There’s a guy who does a bunch of KU games, and last week I spent an hour or so watching a few condensed, classic games. The one I paid most attention to was a game from December 1993, when Indiana came to Lawrence for a much-anticipated game that ended up being one of the best games I’ve ever seen in person.
It was fun to watch just to see how much college ball has changed in 20 years, of course. Players were a lot different both in skill set and physical stature. The game was different, with the focus on motion and probably better core basketball skills than today. That said, KU’s offense suddenly changed that year with the arrival of Jacque Vaughn, who would spend a lot of time standing around dribbling, waiting for the pieces to get into the right places before he gave it up.
It was also fun to watch that game, think of the two teams now, and where they’ve been during the 20 years since that night.
In 1993 KU had been to two Final Fours in three years. IU had been to the Final Four in the year between KU’s two appearances. KU had beaten IU in the Midwest Regional Finals the previous spring in St. Louis to advance to New Orleans. Both teams had won National Championships within the previous seven years.
That night in December ’93 both teams were a combination of veteran role players, a single senior who was the alpha dog, and then a collection of young guys with lots of promise. You would expect each team to be in the running for more Final Fours for years to come.
It didn’t happen.
KU was the winningest program of the 1990s, but only reached the Elite Eight one more time in the decade, losing to Syracuse in 1996. They were always ranked highly, generally contended for the conference title and a high seed in the NCAA tournament, and had some of the greatest players in the program’s history. But the next Final Four wouldn’t come until 2002.
Indiana, though, kind of fell apart. Bobby Knight couldn’t find the next Calbert Cheaney as the recruiting side of his job seemed to pass him by. They would reach the Sweet 16 later that season, but not again in Knight’s tenure.
IU wouldn’t make it to the Sweet 16, or beyond, until 2002, when the Mike Davis coached Hoosiers lost to Maryland in the National Championship game in Atlanta.
But that was just a blip for IU.
While KU returned to the Final Four in 2003, losing to Syracuse in the title game, IU really fell off the map. Mike Davis became a total train wreck. He was replaced by Kelvin Sampson, who got the program put on probation for the first time in its history. The Hoosiers reached the tournament four times in nine years, only making it to the Sweet 16 last year, when they lost to eventual champs Kentucky.
But IU’s long nightmare appears to be over. Tom Crean has built a team around a fantastic group of local players, complimenting them with some fine out-of-state talent.
Despite a couple lulls during their Big 10 schedule, IU enters the final week before Selection Sunday as a near lock for a #1 seed. With that comes a likely trip across the state line for first weekend games in Dayton, followed by regional games at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
There is no such thing as a sure thing in the NCAA tournament. Ask KU fans about 1997. Or 1998. But Indiana seems an easy pick to win their first four NCAA games and return to Atlanta where they will chase their sixth National Championship.
While watching that 1993 game, I thought about someone who followed either school closely back then having disappeared for 20 years. They could have been in a coma, gone to some remote Antarctic station, or been stuck in a mine for all that time. If they took a look at the AP poll this week, and saw IU at #3 and KU at #7, they might think nothing had changed in the time they had been away. When in fact it’s been a long, rocky ride for the Hoosiers.
I’ll admit, I don’t have a lot of love for IU. Which is weird. I have a degree from there, after all. My wife and several of her siblings went there. The Hoosiers have some kids I got to watch play in high school. But I if I had to adopt an Indiana team as a second-favorite, it would be Butler.
I think that’s because, despite Butler’s success, I don’t see them as a threat to KU. Sure, they could take KU out if they played. But KU and Butler aren’t going to be recruiting the same kids. They aren’t battling for spots on the All-Time Best Program list. They won’t be comparing records and strength of schedules each March as they fight for a top seed in the most geographically convenient region.
Oh, and I think Tom Crean is kind of an ass.
Anyway, I won’t be rooting for IU in the tournament if they are still playing if/after KU goes out. Especially if I’m at Lucas Oil in two weeks watching KU play in one Midwest Semifinal while #1 seed IU plays in the other. Or, God forbid, they meet in a regional final a couple days later.
That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate IU’s story. Success is never a given in college basketball no matter how glorious a program’s past. IU’s difficult 20 years are a good reminder that it can all go away quickly.
I just hope KU makes them wait a little bit longer for their next Final Four.