Things were not so friendly between these two at the 1992 Final Four.
There are several titles I considered using to label this season. I considered "Context" in reference to the Bobby Knight/Calbert Cheaney bullwhip incident which we’ll get into. I thought about "ZOMG DAMON BAILEY!!!1!!!" because, you know, he was a state legend at the age of 14 and entering into his sophomore season. I even thought about "Why Southern Indiana Rules" in reference to the even more awesome junior from Evansville, Calbert Cheaney. But alas, we’ve come this far so "Great Expectations" it is. This edition finds our heroes making their trip through the field as pre-season #2.
The 1992 version was coming off of a Sweet Sixteen loss to Kansas in the previous year but returning pretty much everyone of note. Losing only Lyndon Jones from the previous year Indiana was essentially returning every starter and all of the bench depth. In fact, "only" Alan Henderson and Todd Lindeman were the new guys to the team. Everyone else had made the Sweet Sixteen and seen some experience gained. In fact, of all the teams covered in Great Expectations, the 1992 team reminds me the most of the 2012 edition of the Hoosiers.
The ‘92 team lost only one contributing senior from the previous year, who was also named Jones. They were returning all starters and depth. They were coming off of a loss in the Sweet Sixteen by double digits to a team that wound up in the championship game. And the expectations for the next year were running much higher. Really the biggest difference between then and now is that the big recruiting class was a group of sophomores now instead of incoming freshmen. But there are a bunch of similarities between the past and present.
The team didn’t open all that well but it kind of mirrors what Michigan State did this year. They dropped two games very early, but there is no shame in losing to UCLA or Kentucky. They turned it around pretty quickly and finished the non conference with a 9-2 record. Going into the conference season they were the favorites along with Michigan’s Fab Five to take the conference.
Everything went to plan early. This includes a win over the Fab Five in Assembly Hall followed by a 41 point drubbing of Purdue (106-65). Keep that ass-kicking in mind as we’ll come back to it in a few sentences. The Hoosiers continued to roll with only two minor hiccups on the way to a very strong conference season. The Hoosiers lost pretty handily to Michigan State in East Lansing and were eked out by Minnesota in the dome before winning four straight to get back on track.
Unfortunately, the Hoosiers’ hot shooting absolutely evaporated over the back end of the schedule. A team that was averaging over 83 points a game in their final four games of the conference struggles to break 65. In fact, they did so only once in the final four games. Despite the shooting woes they were able to get wins against Iowa and Wisconsin, but the Fab Five in Michigan took one along with Purdue. I think the Purdue split is pretty telling with how badly the Hoosiers played down the stretch. A team they had beat by 41 points just six weeks prior was able to top Indiana by a score of 59-61. You read that right. If Indiana were playing against the margin of victory in their previous game it would have been a pretty close 59-41. How a team scores 106 and then struggles to score 60 down the stretch boggles the mind. Bobby Knight agreed.
Knight was so upset with his team’s play that he ended up cancelling the basketball awards banquet. The mood was pretty tense in the Hoosiers locker room despite the #2 seed that was earned in the NCAA Tournament. In an effort to lighten the mood and relieve some of the stress before the tournament a couple of the players bought Knight a bullwhip as a joke. This innocent gesture turned into a manufactured media scandal when Calbert Cheaney and Knight were goofing around and posed for a picture where Knight was using the bullwhip on Calbert. The media cried racism and Bloomington rolled its eyes. It’s funny how even today that picture still gets brought up when the internet discusses the merits and demerits of Knight’s character. Bobby certainly had his issues but racism was not one.
Luckily for Indiana the sporting world was forced to move on from the subject. [EDITOR’S NOTE: due to circumstances beyond his control, AJ was unable to finish this post, so this is John from here to the end] The loss to Purdue may have cost the Hoosiers the top seed in the Midwest. As the #2 seed in the West, the Hoosiers headed to Boise, where they whipped Eastern Illinois and beat #7 LSU by ten. The regional was played at The Pit in Albuquerque, and IU beat #3 Florida State by 11, setting up a rematch of the season opener against #1 seed UCLA. The Bruins were led by senior Don McLean and by a talented group of freshmen (including Ed O’Bannon and Tyus Edney) who would lead UCLA to the title as seniors. It was not yet their time. Undaunted by jetlag or the altitude, IU thrashed the Bruins 106-79, rediscovering their offensive magic from earlier in the season. Not counting 1940, when the tournament was only 8 teams, this was only the second time IU had reached the Final Four while winning every Tournament game by a double digit margin (1981 was the other). Also, other than a 32-point win over St. Joseph’s in the 1981 regional final (a game that was played in Bloomington), the 27-point win was IU’s largest margin of victory so deep in the Tournament.
The Hoosiers’ win, combined with Christian Laettner’s heroics against Kentucky, set up another meeting between the mentor and the pupil. IU and Duke had last met in the Tournament in 1987, when IU knocked off the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16. Five years later, no subsequent team had defeated Duke before the Final Four. The Blue Devils reached the national semifinals in 1988 and 1989, lost badly to UNLV in the 1990 title game, and won their first title in 1991 after upsetting undefeated UNLV, one of the greatest college teams of all time, in the semifinals. So, the Hoosiers faced a talented, experienced, and battle tested team led by Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill. IU continued its Tournament hot streak, jumping out to a 39-27 first half lead. The Blue Devils closed it to 5 points at halftime, and then dialed up the defense, holding IU scoreless in the first 5 minutes of the second half and allowed IU only 3 points in the first ten minutes. By that time, IU trailed by 13, and the Hoosiers were in serious, serious foul trouble. This was, of course, the infamous Ted Valentine game. Duke was in the bonus within the first 6 minutes of the half, and by the end of the game, Cheaney, Henderson, Bailey, and Greg Graham all had fouled out. IU trailed by 9. Still, three Todd Leary made three pointers in a 25 second span (with some Duke and IU free throws interspersed), the Hoosiers found themselves with the ball and a chance to tie, down 78-75. Jamal Meeks missed a three pointer, however, and that was essentially it.
Unfortunately, this game was the beginning of a feud between Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, caused by Knight's sensitivity about what he perceived as dismissive public comments by Coach K, and undoubtedly fueled by some bitterness about his first loss to his protege.
The Hoosiers lived up to their preseason rating. While a late season slump cost IU the Big Ten and the #1 seed, the Hoosiers played extremely well in the NCAA Tournament, winning four games comfortably and falling just short of a team on its way to its second consecutive NCAA title. Its hard not to think that the Hoosiers would have had an excellent shot against a very young Michigan team in the final, but it wasn’t to be. The loss to Duke left IU fans hungry for a title in 1993, with five of the top seven players returning. More on the 1992-93 squad next week.