After the disappointing year that was the ‘74 Hoosiers team that failed to make the tournament. Yes, it was in an era where if you didn’t win your conference you didn’t get to go, but it still was a disappointment. The following season the Hoosiers had a chance to redeem themselves from the previous year’s letdown. It was like the world hit the reset button and Indiana used up one of its lives. They once again started the year #3 overall, behind only NC State and UCLA.
This season was not going to be an easy battle however. Yes, IU was top ranked in the midwest, but the B1G had three other teams also ranked in the top 20. Minnesota and Michigan came in at #18 and #17 respectively and those people up north in West Lafayette came in at #13. The Big Ten was going to be no cake walk this year. Luckily for the conference the tournament was expanding this year to include 32 teams. Which means for the first time ever there were some at large opportunities for the big conferences.
Fortunately IU wouldn’t need it. The Hoosiers were returning a pretty loaded lineup. Kent Benson, two sport athlete Quinn Buckner and Scott May were all returning from the previous year’s strong regular season team. With those three and the leadership of team captain Steven Green the Hoosiers were poised to make a splash in the world of college basketball. Luckily everything turned up roses to start the season.
The Hoosiers led by Green’s 16.6 points per game got out of the gate in a sprint. They scored in the 90s or higher in 11 of their first 14 games. At the same time only two opponents ever broke the 80 barrier. In the preseason they beat #4 Kansas, #12 Notre Dame and #16 Kentucky before moving into conference play. So they set foot into B1G play with an undefeated non-conference schedule and a 10-0 record.
Within conference they didn’t slow down. They trounced Ohio State by 30 to open up and then trounced Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin by 15+ before taking on Purdue at home. By this point Indiana had been ranked #1 for a majority of the season and Purdue had just found their way back into the polls at #20. Let’s just say that wasn’t going to last long. Indiana smacked Purdue 104-71 in their first game back in the rankings and they never recovered.
Indiana went on to outpace the entire conference for the rest of the season. Finish the conference season at 18-0 and the entire season with a 29-0. Indiana was set up for a nice national championship run if they could just keep their focus. Indiana showed they were the top team through the first two rounds to vault themselves into the Elite Eight and a rematch with Kentucky. The Hoosiers beat on Texas - El Paso and Oregon State before punching their ticket to a rematch with the Wildcats.
Unfortunately it didn’t go as well the second time as it did the first. UK was able to drop the Hoosiers after a game that was played at a breakneck speed. The final score was 90-92, which, like this season, was the highest scoring game of the tournament. Both offenses were hot and it came down to who would blink first. Unfortunately that was Indiana. It was back and forth all game until about 6 minutes to play and then Kentucky went on an 8 point run that Indiana was forced to try and play comeback with. The Hoosiers brought it to within 2 with 45 seconds to play but that would be the last IU threatened. Kentucky went on to beat Syracuse in the Final Four and fell to UCLA in the national championship.
The final results looking back were disappointing for a team that was expected to be in the national championship, but some extenuating circumstances do add some solace to the IU faithful. Scott May, the team’s regular season scoring leader, broke his wrist four weeks previously. Knight tried to start May in this game despite the cast on his left forearm. Unfortunately May’s health was not up to the job, he only played 7 minutes in the first half and less than a minute in the second. I hate what-ifs but man...
In the end it was another good but not great performance by the Hoosiers based on pre-season expectations. Luckily moving forward the expanded tournament didn’t make conference play an all or nothing deal. The Hoosiers starting with the previous two seasons started their run as a dominant program in college basketball.