When There’s Nothing On The Horizon You’ve Got Nothing Left To Prove: Saying farewell to the 2008-09 Indiana Hoosiers

  • 03/16/2009 12:19 pm in

Some rambling postseason thoughts on a Monday morning …

So, we’re a few days removed from Indiana’s season-ending first round loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament. Ho, hum. We all knew the Hoosiers were probably going to lose. Whatever hopes we had of an upset were minimal and fleeting. And so the season ends, and on we go, set for another offseason that will be far less angry, anxious, and uncertain than last season’s.

Comparing the two situations is almost funny. This time last year, we had just been destroyed by Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Sure, Arkansas was a good team, and it was a tough draw, talent-wise, but by that point it almost didn’t matter. A once-promising season with a lineup stocked full of players was derailed entirely when Kelvin Sampson was fired for being a naughty boy. The team lost most of the rest of its games, limped into the NCAAs, and were promptly spanked. But it wasn’t the loss that was disconcerting. It’s what came before it, and what was still ahead.

Cue the offseason: a series of ugly incidents and confusing decisions punctuated by a brief moment of optimism. That moment was Tom Crean’s hire. It’s the hire IU should have made two years ago, when they instead chose a coach under investigation for having the cell phone tendencies of a 13-year-old meth addict. Crean was a steadier, calmer, more reasonable choice with just as good of a coaching record and a history of recruiting well in Indiana and Chicago. Why he wasn’t originally chosen to succeed Mike Davis is a mystery that still confounds to this day. (Then-IU president Adam Herbert’s insistence on a minority hire is likely the answer, but oh well. Spilled milk, and all that.)

By contrast, this year’s offseason promises to be far more quiet and far more enjoyable. For one, Crean won’t be undergoing a massive lineup turnover. There will be recruits to incorporate and some players from 2008-09’s team to wave goodbye to. But there won’t be a coaching change. There won’t be an NCAA rules committee hearing with an historic program’s future at stake. There won’t be any of that. It will be calm, and the only developments we have to fret over are how much better IU will be at all of the positions Crean recruited last season. It’s a welcome change.

But before we go forward, we must look back, and so, without further ado, here’s my one-word summary of the 2008-09 Indiana Hoosiers:

Meh.

You might think I’d be more enthused, or less. I’m right in the middle, and here’s why.

IU, this year, managed to be both depressing and uplifting. They were unequivocally a horrible team. It’s a strong word to use, but it’s true; when you’re so futile in such a weak Big Ten, and you play so few veterans and your coach coaches so hard but to little avail, well, you’re horrible. It’s just how it is.

But in their horribleness, the Hoosiers also managed to be kind of interesting. Which would you prefer? A team that plays hard every night, that does all the right things, and that gets the most out of their potential — regardless of how limited that potential is — or one with two future NBA players and a host of great complements that gives up on itself when adversity hits? That folds under the pressure? That shows no spine, and no backbone, and no integrity? Of course you’ll take the latter. If bad basketball has to be part of that bargain, fine. For a year or two, we can make that trade, can’t we?

And so that’s what we got: A team that managed to make me less interested in general. But also one that occasionally shone through that disinterest, one that could, on occasion, inspire, if only by contrast to the disaster that came before it. The 2008-09 Indiana Hoosiers taught me, even in failure, that all of the romantic, moralistic cliches that underpin college basketball can, on occasion, be true.

Of course, now I’m ready to get back to being good at basketball again. Fortunately, that’s the other thing we learned this season: Tom Crean can really coach.

Think about it. Indiana, a team without any real, discernible talent, at least none on par with its opponents, was consistently in close games. They improved all season. Their final games were some of their most efficient efforts, and they got better at playing on the road. They had all the characteristics of a well-coached team. And they had no talent. Imagine the possibilities when Crean gets something workable going in Bloomington. The sky can reasonably be called the limit.

So, all things considered, I feel good. My favorite college basketball team just went 6-25, and 1-17 in the Big Ten. It just had its worst season ever. And I feel good. If that’s not a sign of the optimism at work here, I don’t know what is.

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  • MillaRed

    Burning questions…….

    * Will anyone transfer? I'm hearing the terrible rumor mill of course. If not, who redshirts?

    * Will any of the 2009 recruits move up in the national rankings? Just curious…..

    * Who and when will we sign a 2010 class? I think this class is huge in terms of the four year picture.

    * What is the starting line-up in 2009? These kids will continue to play hard. They will have depth and that converts into at least 15 wins in my mind.

    This blog has helped me get through this horrible season. It's great to know there are so many fans following a 6-25 team. We are truly bleeding IU colors.

    Lastly, thank you Kelvin Sampson. I cannot remember when I thought so highly of one individual. You accomplished so much while doing so little. We all wish you a very merry off-season. A-hole.

  • BFowler

    1. Horrible is a strong word to use, but appropriate for this collection of talent. You say weak Big Ten, but a Big Ten that got 7 teams in the dance with an 8th in the conversation.

    2. I would say that they were much easier to root for than the previous group (excluding EJ, DJ, and Lance for me last season and at times Devan this season).

    3. I would say my expectations were so low that any type of success felt really good (see close losses to Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, etc.).

    4. I would say my candidate to redshirt or transfer would be Malik Story. When the announcers (Lavin quoting Crean) say that he could make an impact if he got in shape…..that's troubling.

    5. I would say that it was nice to see players actually improve over the course of the season. See: VJ III and Nick (at times) Williams (the only two ranked recruits). It has been said that the most improvement is done between Freshman and Sophomore years, so this team should be much better next year.

    6. I would say that you meant to say the former when comparing the two teams.

    7. Blue and orange and Black and gold still look terrible together.

    8. I would say that I have not been this excited to see next season since the post championship '87-'88 season. ( to see 1988-89 with Jay Edwards ).

    9. I would say that these kids have earned our admiration for their struggles and perseverance. Tom Crean has shown himself up for the task. He deserves to be commended as well for his optimism and ability to coach to the bitter end. He seems to be a big picture guy, and I can appreciate that.

    10. Like I said in a previous post….R.I.P. 2008-09 Hoosiers….may we never see that volume of losing again.

  • Rapid1

    I really can't see any of the walk-ons except maybe Daniel Moore having a spot next year with the talent coming in. And I think we heard about a lack of scholarships available. We can hold our heads high and say THANKS GUYS, to the team and coaching staff. We'll still bleed Crimson and Cream. Good things are coming. Now maybe the dirt bag that caused a lot of our problems will just go away. GO BIG RED!

  • GFDave

    Everybody knew it was going to be an ugly season from a wins and losses perspective. At times early in the season I was able to take solace in the effort the kids put in and, to their credit, that effort never did waiver.

    Nevertherless, I became increasingly frustrated watching the same mistakes being made over and over again and I am happy that the season is over.

    I'd like to extend thanks to the team and coaches for staying positive throughout the whole season and for representing the Hoosier Nation well, even if the quality of ball left a lot to be desired.

    I think we, the fan base, deserve to pat ourselves on the back a little for sticking with it, going to the games and cheering them on. Good job Hoosiers, I'm proud to say I'm one of you.

    Next year will be exciting and hopefully we: 1) Pull some upsets, and 2) Play close to .500 ball and have the NIT as a realistic possibility as the season unfolds.

  • bozemblem

    Although the past season was at best disappointing and at worst down right painful, there are two distinct positives that can be drawn from this past season.

    First, there are few schools in the nation that could experience the complete upheaval that IU experienced and still recover. The fanbase and lore built over Bobby Knight’s tenure laid a solid foundation that helped stabilize a program program that essentially hit the “Reset” button. Think about it; how many other schools would be able to hire someone like Tom Crean after a season like 2007-2008? Most talented young coaches are attracted to jobs that have already achieved a certain level of success. Crean knew going into this job that he was going to be responsible for almost completely rebuilding the program. And not only did he not shy away from that challenge, it seemed to invigorate him. So, truth be told, it is quite a positive that an institution such as Indiana can go through such a traumatic blow and come out on the other end stronger for it.

    The second positive is that the whole fallout from the 2007-2008 season allowed IU to reset the entire program, and rebuild it the way it was supposed to be build. Strong, passionate, fundamental coaching. Athletes who are good people first and good basketball players second. A passionate and vocal fan base. And maybe most importantly, a modern program with strong (or at least, increasingly stronger) ties to its legacy. The ability to rebuild the program based on such important fundamentals will prove to be a valuable asset in the future.

    Will IU be dominant next year? No, probably not. Michigan St will still have the most raw talent. Purdue will only get better. Teams like Michigan, Northwestern and Minnesota have demonstrated that they are young, talented teams on the rise. Realistically, despite the influx of considerable talent coming in next year, IU is still probably a year or two away from restoring their place at the top of the Big Ten. However, the day when that happens is at least in sight, and that’s probably the most significant positive of them all.

  • aerialM

    got to be honest, this season has been a sort of cathartic rite. we needed to suffer, in a way, we needed to purge ourselves as hoosier fans. after knight, we feel into limbo with our program and if anything, this season has helped IU figure out who/what it wants to be as a team. I mean, IU matters. Show me one other team that'll go 6-25 and 1-17 and yet their coach gets on PTI, or they get shown on ESPN and CBS and they sell out the hall…anyway. the season was long and hard (especially once the B-10 started) but it was necessary. We circled up the wagons and we'll be a better team and a better program in the long run for doing it…
    as far as next year goes, I cannot wait. The NIT is realistic. I'm hoping for something like 16-14 or 17-13 with a .500 B-10 record. I keep hearing about possible transfers and, truthfully, the names I hear aren't killing me: Dumes, Roth, Story. I like all three of those guys, but honestly, I'd be more rattled at the prospect of losing Pritch, VJ or Nick Williams. Our 2010 class will be small (2/3) but we'll get a couple of top 100 or 150's. I think Kyrie Irving is high on us and we got in early on both him and Brandon Mobley and Alex Gauna. I actually think the 2011 class has a chance to be a big'n for us with Carlino on board as well as the good stuff I hear about us and the youngest Zeller. In any case, the future is bright!

  • cookcmc

    Here's to putting this season in the bag and moving forward to next year…………..the anxiety will kill me over the summer.

    And thank you to ITH for providing this platform for which the Hoosier Nation can come together and voice their opinions, Although I do not contribute on a daily or weekly basis, I do visit the site on a daily basis and enjoy reading the comments. Keep up the good work ITH!

  • Beth P

    I would like to thank the vast majority of wonderful IU fans for their support of a young and inexperienced team. They had to make their way through a season where every other team had a full roster of scholarship players. They are not horrible or lacking in talent. The Big Ten is not a weak conference with 7 teams picked to go to the NCAA tournament. I am very proud of the Coaches and the team for staying positive and never giving up!

  • mamalickaboobooday

    As much as I love to bash IU for being knuckleheads, (Trustees I’m refering to) I am hoping for IU to recover. One thing I would like to see though is the length of the shorts getting back up to just above the knees. I mean, if the NBA has a rule where the shorts are above the knees, why can’t IU be a little different and implement a similar style… at least we would look a little different.

    Thanks and Go Hoosiers

  • Mike

    We should adopt the phoenix as our mascot for next year, because we've went through the fire this year and came out reborn. I think this is one of the most memorable teams in IU history. Obviously not because of the basketball, but because of the way the coaches, players, students, and fans all pulled together, despite the terrible play. It proved that at IU, winning isn't everything, and it certainly isn't the only thing, but one part of what makes IU Basketball so great (although it is a rather large and important part).

  • HoosierDavey

    I would really hate it if Roth left. He has the ability to be an effective zone buster for us no matter how many studs we bring in. Watching that 9 3-pointer game against OSU was the highlight of my year!

  • Dan Leavitt Jr

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching this Hoosier team grow and get better and scare the bejesus out of better, more talented teams in the big ten. I particularly enjoyed watching us come back from down 20 or so against Illinois, at B-town, to cut it to 6 late in the game and have Bruce Weber look down at Crean and know that this was the last time he would dominate an IU team. He knew it, we knew it and if Illinois fans have any idea of how the great game of BBall works (which I have serious doubt), they knew it.

    I enjoyed watching IUs fans get into every game and Crean tackle the band director. I enjoyed watching Crean coach until the very end only to have to literally pick up his players after tough losses like the one at Northwestern. (Which was my favorite game of the season for some reason).

    But most of all I loved watching US come back as a nation of god given birthright basketball fans, united under one front, that of IU basketball. WE are back as a fanbase and I love every minute of it.

    Was this season a terrible catastrophic mess as far as wins and loses are concerned? Yes, but was it the greatest season we have had as a complete fan base since the General left? You bet your sweet ass it was. WE are back IU and I couldnt have been more proud of my heritage as an IU fan.

    Go IU fight fight fight, for the glory of old IU

    Bring on 2009

  • We learned that Crean could coach up and make competitive a team composed of players playing out of their roles and at a level some never expected. That's a lot different than taking a talent laden team and taking it to a title, which is the true measure of on-court success at IU. And while the returns from Marquette are good on that front, it might be a while before we learned whether he can really coach.

  • IUfanGary28

    I think next year could be better than most are thinking.

    PG: Rivers
    SG: Dumes
    G/F: Jones
    F: Waterford
    C: Pritchard

    I think we the above lineup we can compete at a pretty high level. Rivers may not be the most talented player but he has 2 years at a big time program and also a year to basically be a coach on the sideline. He will take control and run this team and you will see some of the silly mistakes made by VJIII and Moore at the point go away. Jones was impressive at the end of the year and with him not having to bring the ball up all the time I could seem him blossoming into a really good player. Plus we have depth next year.

    We might not win the Big Ten but I could see us being a Middle of the pack team and competing for a NCAA berth. Lets hope Rivers pays his own way and we don't lose anyone!

  • MillaRed

    Good call on Rivers. I have wondered if that was thier ace in the hole since his dad was loaded.

  • gregmquinn

    I was surprised by Story's lack of minutes all season long. While he certainly made a lot of dumb mistakes, he is a legitimate D-1 athlete and should have been in the game during crunch time vs. Penn State etc. ahead of Fink and Moore. It felt like he was in Crean's doghouse a lot this year. Hard to know how Crean's relationship is with Dumes, but I would bet Story and Dumes are most likely to leave before next year. We have plenty of depth in our back court and neither seem to be in our long term plans.

    My starting 5 for next year:

    PG: Hulls
    SG: Jones
    SF: Watford
    PF: Elston
    C: Pritchard

    This might not be Crean's starting 5, but I would like to see more size on the floor and we need some toughness at PG. I think Rivers, Creek and Williams will be first off the bench. I expect Roth to redshirt.

  • MillaRed

    Good call on Rivers. I have wondered if that was thier ace in the hole since his dad was loaded.

  • gregmquinn

    I was surprised by Story's lack of minutes all season long. While he certainly made a lot of dumb mistakes, he is a legitimate D-1 athlete and should have been in the game during crunch time vs. Penn State etc. ahead of Fink and Moore. It felt like he was in Crean's doghouse a lot this year. Hard to know how Crean's relationship is with Dumes, but I would bet Story and Dumes are most likely to leave before next year. We have plenty of depth in our back court and neither seem to be in our long term plans.

    My starting 5 for next year:

    PG: Hulls
    SG: Jones
    SF: Watford
    PF: Elston
    C: Pritchard

    This might not be Crean's starting 5, but I would like to see more size on the floor and we need some toughness at PG. I think Rivers, Creek and Williams will be first off the bench. I expect Roth to redshirt. While Roth's shooting was really fun to watch this year, I just can't see him getting minutes ahead of any of our other guards. His transfer would be no big surprise.