Happy New Year, everyone. The year 2011 began with a thud for Indiana. At this time a year ago, the Hoosiers already were 0-2 in the Big Ten and had lost four games in what would become a six-game losing streak. Just a year later, IU is 13-1, 1-1 in the conference, and finally has broken through against one of the Big Ten's top programs. This was an ugly, strange game where the officials ignored heavy contact but blew the whistle on both teams for many ticky-tack calls. While neither team truly made a run, in the end, IU found itself with the ball and the lead and the Buckeyes had no choice but to foul. If I had told you 45 minutes ago that in the final three minutes, Cody Zeller would foul out and that Jordan Hulls would miss a free throw, where would you have put IU's chances? But here were are, 1-1 in the conference after playing what appear to be two of the five toughest games on the Big Ten schedule.
I said many times before tonight that an 0-2 record would be an acceptable outcome in these first two games, and that even one win would be gravy. Well, we got it, and not only does IU appear destined for its first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years (subject to injuries and epic collapse, of course), but it's not crazy to think that with the right breaks and a few more head-scratchers like Wisconsin's home loss to Iowa today, this team could contend for the Big Ten championship. For tonight, just like three weeks ago, it's time to savor the win and to thank Tom Crean and these remarkable players for hanging in there. I certainly wouldn't wish the last three seasons on anyone, but I have to wonder if IU's toughness down the stretch this year is related to what the team has been through. What's a few minutes of adversity when you've been through two or three years of adversity? Whatever the reason, it's been fun. Have a happy and safe New Year's Eve.