The Indiana Hoosiers came into the 1950-1951 season with something to prove. They walked into the previous season rated #5 in the nation. They returned their floor general Bill Garrett for his senior season and were looking to put together a national title run as the early season #4. Indiana entered the top 5 of the AP poll immediately in the ’51 season. On December 19, 1950 AP released its first poll and while the Kentucky Wildcats topped the poll, Indiana fell just behind Bradley and NC State for fourth.
The most interesting part of this season that overall record wise and in relevance to the polls, it was probably the Hoosiers best season to date. IU spent the entire season in great esteem. The Hoosiers were as high as 3rd in the polls in early February but finished at their lowest mark of the season in seventh. Despite that still very high ranking Indiana did not make the NIT or the NCAA tournament that season. Why? You guessed it, they finished second once again the Conference.
The Hoosiers started off absolutely strong. They started the season 6-0 by knocking off the local schools of DePauw, Butler and Notre Dame (#14), routing Oregon State and Texas Christian and then eking past Kansas State. This strong record led up to what was probably one of the best games of the year in the nation. Then #3 Indiana took on #2 Bradley at Bradley two day after Christmas. Bradley prevailed in that contest and handed the Hoosiers their first loss of the season 64-62. IU recovered and finished the non-conference schedule strong with a defeat of Drake two days later.
Coach McCracken and the Hoosiers started the conference season the way they started off the regular season. Indiana reeled off six wins in their first six conference games. Victories over Ohio State x2, Michigan State, Illinois and a route of Purdue showed the conference Indiana wasn’t messing around this season. The next win a home victory over Minnesota put them at a very strong 13-1 on the year. Following that victory over Minnesota at home led to a road trip to get Minnesota on their court. The Hoosiers and fell to the Golden Gophers on the road.
This is the start of what I guess you would call Indiana’s biggest rough stretch of the season. They turned around and beat the pants off of Iowa and Northwestern but would lose to Illinois on the road. Now going back for one second, when I say beat the pants off of Northwestern I truly mean it. The Hoosiers dropped 94 points in that game. Mind you this was in an era where shooting 30% from the field was pretty damn good, there were no 3 pointers and IU’s season scoring average was only 64 ppg. At the time it was a new scoring record for the Hoosiers at home in Bloomington Fieldhouse. That would be a rough equivalent of IU dropping 120 points in a game this season. We are always super impressed if IU hits triple digits, now add another 20 to that. Yeesh.
After the loss to Illinois on the road the Hoosiers stood at 8-2 with 4 games to play. The Hoosiers made the most out of those four by beating the pants off of Purdue (again), trouncing Michigan, getting past Iowa and getting a comfortable win at home with Wisconsin. The Hoosiers stood at 12-2 in conference and 19-3 overall. Their resume was impressive with wins over ranked Illinois, Notre Dame and Kansas State and only one loss to an unranked team, Minnesota. However, the damage had already been done. Illinois finished the season ranked two ahead of IU and with a better record in conference. Illinois’ only loss came at the hands of the Hoosiers and they repaid that loss later in the season. The Illini were invited to play in the tournament and the Hoosiers were once again forced to stay at home with their second place trophy. Illinois subsequently lost a very close game to Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four and the Cats went on to win a national title over Kansas State. You can’t help but feel some what-ifs for Indiana if they could have been invited to the tourney. They possessed wins over two of the Final Four teams.
In the end their downfall was likely their schedule. The Hoosiers played a total of 22 games on the season. The only other top ranked team with less than 25 games were the Ivy Leaguers of Columbia with 24 games played. Indiana no doubt had the talent to hang a national championship banner but the limited tournament of the day hamstrung them. Even though they were one of the seven best teams in the nation they didn’t get into the 16 team field of the national tournament. It happens and we can talk what ifs forever, but it won’t change a thing.
What we can celebrate is that Indiana had a very strong season with the senior leadership of 6’3" center Bill Garrett, Gene Ring, Jack Brown, Bill Tosheff and juniors Sam Miranda and Bob Masters. We can appreciate an IU team that set a scoring record for its home court, averaged 64 points a game while keeping their opponents to 53 points a game. Did we achieve our lofty expectations on the season? In some ways yes and in other ways no. If circumstances were different we had a strong enough season to consider being one of the best teams in the nation and a potential National Champion. But in the end the Hoosiers were still good enough to call themselves worthy of the first of the year ranking.