Well, we're finally at the end. The good news is that we've taken a nice look at IU's basketball history, for good and for ill. The bad news is that 1992-93 was 20 years ago, which means it's been that long, since before most of IU's players were born, since the Hoosiers entered the season ranked in the top 5. The 1992-93 team is a special one to me because I was a freshman that year. As I've mentioned here, I didn't grow up an IU fan, although I grew up in Indiana and certainly paid attention to IU and was familar with the team and the players. In response to the post last week about the 1991-92 team, nothsa questioned whether the 1992 team lived up to expectations, considering that many thought that IU was good enough to win it all in 1992. I think it's arguable either way. IU entered 1991-92 ranked #2, and although the Hoosiers faltered enough at the end of the season to miss out on the Big Ten title and the #1 seed, IU dominated its first four Tournament games and played a competitive game in the Final Four against the defending and eventual champion, Duke. I think that is a respectable outcome for any team. Still, I think my presumption that the 1991-92 Hoosiers met expectations was based in part on my bias toward 1992-93 as "the year."
While the 1991-92 team lost only Lyndon Jones from the previous season, the 1992-93 team had to replace Eric Anderson and Jamal Meeks. Still, IU returned six of its top eight players: Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, Damon Bailey, Chris Reynolds, Matt Nover, and Alan Henderson, in no particular order. Still, it's a testament to how loaded college basketball was in 1992-93 that IU was ranked only fourth in the preseason poll. Michigan, led by the Fab Five in their second and final year together, was first, followed by Kansas and Duke, which lost Christian Laettner but returned Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and others.
The Hoosiers began the season strong, winning the Preseason NIT with wins over Florida State and Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, IU lost Pat Graham to a foot injury in the FSU game that kept him out of action until late February. IU lost non-conference games to Kansas (at the Hoosier Dome) and Kentucky (in Louisville), but otherwise was perfect in non-conference play, with wins over Cincinnati and St. John's in addition to the PNIT. IU won early Big Ten home games against Iowa and Penn State before heading to Michigan on January 12 to play the Fab Five.
No regular season IU games since then have matched the hype and legitimate interest that surrounded the two regular season meetings between Indiana and Michigan. Student ticket demand was so high that we received only four tickets each, and whether the Michigan game was included in those four games completely dictated each student's happiness. Students who looked at their four tickets would literally jump for joy, while those who drew the short straw would shout profanities. The two programs were held up by the media as polar opposites, the disciplined Hoosiers against the free-spirited Wolverines. In the initial meeting in Ann Arbor, the Hoosiers missed some late opportunities to put the game away, but at the very end, Alan Henderson rejected a Chris Webber putback and IU suddenly had a huge advantage in the Big Ten race. The Michigan game was the first of a three game road swing, and not an easy one, either. After IU won by 4 at Illinois and by 11 at Purdue, it was obvious that the Hoosiers were on their way to a special season. On February 1, 1993, with the Hoosiers standing at 19-2 and 8-0 in the Big Ten, IU moved into the number one slot in the AP Poll for the first time in a decade. A couple of weeks later, IU completed the season sweep of the Fab Five with a one-point win in Bloomington.
IU was 23-2 and 12-0 in the conference on February 19 when the news began to leak out: Alan Henderson had injured his knee in practice. Before that day, the comparisons to 1976 were about whether IU could go undefeated in the conference. After the Henderson injury, it was all Scott May all the time. IU beat Purdue the following Sunday to improve to 13-0 in the conference, but lost a shot at an undefeated conference season with a loss to Ohio State the next week. IU finished strong without Henderson, going 17-1 in the conference and finishing the regular season ranked #1, and with the good fortune of playing the first two rounds at the Hoosier Dome. One of the highlights of the NCAA Tournament buildup was the open practice at the Dome, where IU drew an enormous crowd, reported to be larger than any of the opening night NCAA crowds on that Thursday night. Bob Knight set aside his gruff demeanor to have the players lie down on the floor and spell out "THANK YOU!", featuring Knight himself as the exclamation point. It was a great moment, and the Hoosiers played very well in their first three Tournament games, knocking off Wright State, Xavier, and Louisville. In the Elite Eight, however, the Hoosiers' lack of frontcourt depth, exacerbated by the Henderson injury, finally caught up with IU. Kansas's frontcourt, consisting of a coection that included Richard Scott, Eric Pauley, Darrin Hancock, and Greg Ostertag, was too physical for IU, and the Hoosiers fell just short of what may have been the most blue-blooded Final Four ever: Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan, and Kentucky.
At the time, this loss seemed as if it were against the natural order of things. It was considered practically a given that IU, after having won in 1976, 1981, and 1987, was due in 1993, and that the excellent senior class of Cheaney, Greg Graham, Chris Reynolds, and Nover simply could not fall short. In reality, even with Henderson it would have been very tough. North Carolina was very good. Beating Michigan three times per season would have been a major challenge. But to IU students in that era, it was simply expected. As much as the loss stung then, imagine if we had known that in the next 19 seasons, IU would not have won another outright Big Ten title, would have only three trips as far as the Sweet 16, and only one Final Four. It's been a long time coming, but it seems that the Hoosiers are on the cusp of another golden age.