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Great Expectations: Indiana Hoosiers 1976-1977

4 straight years of being ranked in the top 5 to start the season. It would be nice if Indiana could start this year replicating such a run. The Hoosiers after winning a National Championship were overturning nearly their entire roster from the previous championship team. They were likely ranked #5 overall preseason due to the previous year’s success. This wasn’t like the common era where everyone has a good idea of the quality of classes coming in as freshman like we can now.

The Hoosiers returned only one starter in Kent Benson and brought on 8 new underclassmen to fill out the team of 13. You read that right, little returning experience and 62% new players and they were ranked #5 in the pre-season. If that sounds pretty optimistic to you, you’d probably be right. The Hoosiers were young and inexperienced. They had to rely on team captain, Kent Benson to provide a lot of leadership and scoring if they were going to compete at the highest end of the national scale.

IU and Bobby Knight struggled with the inexperience. They started the season off 1-4 with a lone win over South Dakota. Kentucky and Notre Dame both put up double digit victories over Indiana. Kent Benson and company did recover in the preseason from the slow start and finished the non-conference schedule on a 4-1 run.

Indiana didn’t really fair much better in the Big Ten schedule starting off. They dropped their first game of the conference schedule to Purdue at home by 17. Yeah, it was a pretty rough year. The conference schedule continued with its ups and downs throughout the season. In fact, it reminds me a lot of this past season’s team. Certainly the ‘12 team had more experience and leadership, but the conference play was very similar. After a disappointing loss to Purdue, the ‘77 team reeled off three quality wins before dropping a one point barn burner to Michigan State.

In the end, the Hoosiers finished 9-9 in conference play. Which was good enough for fifth in conference. Posthumously the Hoosiers were bumped to fourth place when they were awarded with two more wins because Minnesota forfeited their entire season (including two wins over IU). It was discovered that a player sold complimentary home tickets and the profits contributed to the University’s scholarship fund.

So, Indiana finished the season unranked after starting out in the top 5, but that’s probably OK. They were strapped with a label they probably didn’t deserve because of the accomplishments of players that were most gone by the start of the season. In fact, with hind sight being 20/20, I’d say the season went exactly as it should have. A large youth movement with little upperclassmen help weren’t going to stand a chance on the national scene. This wasn’t the current era where a team like Kentucky can bring in some of the nation’s best freshmen in mass. This was an era of slow builds and JV squads. The Hoosiers played as you should expect a young team to play.

It’s funny in that sense. No, I wasn’t around to experience the expectations and there was likely disappointment at the time, but it wasn’t warranted. IU has had some teams that had high expectations in the past and performed much better than this team and were disappointing. The ‘77 team was ranked similarly and performed dismally in comparison to that rank but it was encouraging. Mike Woodson came onto the scene as a freshman and dropped 18 points a game. Kent Benson experienced some injury issues and every player on the roster but Trent Smock started in at least one game throughout the season. It was a team that was trying to find its identity young into many players collegiate careers.

The team would grow and finish second in conference the next season. So this year was definitely a season of growing pains. When looking back at this season, fans should throw those preseason expectations out the window. They were based on players who were no longer on the scene. With the young players that Indiana did have, the season turned out right on par with what expectations should have been.