The 10 Biggest CBB Stories of 2012 — #8: Indiana’s ResurgencePosted by Chris Johnson on December 28th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.
Parity is the force used to describe equality in college basketball. It inheres the sport in every conference in cyclical and sometimes predictable ways, and it allows mid-major teams to dream and perform big in the NCAA Tournament. But there’s no disputing the obvious: College basketball is just plain better when its historically great programs are challenging for conference and national championships. In 2010 and 2011, as Tom Crean methodically reconstructed Indiana’s basketball strength after the Kelvin Sampson mess, college basketball didn’t feel normal without one of its traditional giants. The Hoosiers won 10 and 11 games, respectively, as a nearby program, Butler, ruled the state with consecutive National Championship game appearances.
No one ever questioned Indiana’s eventual re-ascendence, nor would anyone go as far as suggesting a power shift in the state’s hoops power structure. Indiana would return, the question was when, not if. By the start of the 2011-12 season, Crean had replenished the talent ranks, landed a program-changing centerpiece in local product Cody Zeller and positioned his team for a massive rebirth in the national picture. It started out with promise, as Indiana rolled to an 8-0 start and collected wins over Butler and North Carolina State along the way. The turning point came in December 2011, when the Hoosiers knocked off No. 1 Kentucky at Assembly Hall, thanks in part to a buzzer-beating three from Christian Watford that forever enshrined last year’s team in Hoosier lore.
That was just the beginning. At the turn of the new year Indiana churned through the Big Ten season, taking its expected lumps along the way and riding a hyper-efficient offense and Zeller’s precocious low-post guile to the Sweet Sixteen, where its season came full circle in a 12-point loss to the eventual national champion Wildcats. The ride to the top didn’t stop there. The Hoosiers entered this season bearing a weighty designation: a No. 1 preseason ranking. Despite a mid-December loss to Butler – a game that, by way of inclusion, serves to testify Indiana’s preeminent stature as a protagonist in the regular season’s most thrilling regular contest in back-to-back seasons – the Hoosiers are alive and well, armed with a prolific offense, flocked with youth and talented depth and poised to take their NCAA Tournament fortunes a step further. In 2012, Indiana got back where it belongs, jostling with college basketball’s blueblooded powers.