clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Four years after Christian Watford's shot, it hardly means for Indiana what it once did

New, 56 comments

It's been four years since Christian Watford buried a three from the wing in front of the Indiana bench to knock off the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in what appeared to be the game that put Indiana basketball back in the spotlight. But with Indiana struggling through another disappointing start, it's hard not to question what that shot -- that game -- really meant.

Fans streamed down onto the floor like water going over a cliff. Bar patrons ran onto Kirkwood like Nick's and Kilroy's were on fire. And Verdell Jones stood on the scorer's table at Assembly Hall and soaked it all in with his hands pointed to the rafters, occasionally working their way down to pop his jersey to show the "Indiana" on his chest as proudly as he could.

For Jones, and other seniors like Tom Pritchard, there was no doubt what the moment meant. They had pulled off a restoration job that not even the most seasoned cleanup crew would be able to handle after the kind of damage that Hurricane Sampson left in its wake. With each embarrassing loss to the likes of Loyola (Md.), Lipscomb, and Northeastern, and with every heartbreaker where the lack of talent just wasn't enough in the waning minutes of a ballgame, they had scrubbed at the stains left by their predecessors.

That moment, that game was the crowning achievement for those seniors who held a basketball program together with both hands.

But what about the others? What about Watford, Sheehey, and Hulls, who joined Jones on the scorer's table? What about Oladipo and Zeller? What was that moment for them?

On December 11, 2011, just about anybody would have told you that the win against Kentucky was the beginning. It was a sign that Indiana basketball had been reborn. These youngsters who came to Indiana to take the torch from Jones and company were just giving the world a glimpse of the inevitable havoc that they would wreak on college basketball.

As March 23, 2012 was turning to March 24, 2012, nothing seemed any different. The Hoosiers had just suffered a 12-point loss to that same Kentucky team in the Sweet 16 in Catlanta. But it wasn't disappointing like tournament losses can be. No, the solid showing against a team that they had no business beating three months earlier was just a reminder of the things yet to come -- the monster wins, the banners.

But what about today? What about December 10, 2015, four years to the day after Christian Watford buried the Kentucky Wildcats?

The movement never mattered beyond the unfounded hype and it died before anyone outside of Bloomington ever felt its impact.

The team to beat in 2012-2013 spent most of the season at number-one, but struggled through a second-round tournament matchup with Temple before getting outclassed by Syracuse for 40 full minutes.

And just like that, Watford, Hulls, Oladipo, and Zeller were gone, with only a few monster wins and one lousy banner to show for it.

(I hate that Big Ten banner. If the program is really bigger than any one guy, or any one group of guys, who ever put on the uniform, just add that year to the banner with all the championship teams listed. The same goes for the '83 banner. But I digress.)

There was still hope and hype though. Yogi Ferrell and Sheehey remained and incoming freshmen Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh were going to help fill the void left by the four departures. But we all know how that season ended: "We're Indiana. We don't play in the CBI."

The trend continued. Hype surrounding a group of incoming freshmen who were expected to replace outgoing players. Sheehey and Vonleh leave, Blackmon, Johnson, and Holt arrive. Three losses to quality opponents (yes, Eastern Washington was a quality opponent, that's not the point of this) did not temper expectations, and neither did a 5-1 start to the Big Ten season.

But eight losses in the last 12 games put the Hoosiers on the bubble. And Wichita State put them back in Bloomington.

So we came to November 2015, with the hope of being Big Ten contenders and final four darkhorses and the hype of being the Golden State Warriors of college basketball accompanying the new season.

(For what it's worth, whoever it was in the athletic department or from the basketball program that decided to start floating that comparison should be fired. As if Tom Crean needed more reason for people to call for his head. "Whuddya think about the ball club, Jim?" "Well, I tell you one thing, if Bobby was coaching the Golden State Warriors, they sure wouldn't lose to UNLV." Seriously, though, that was a terrible comparison to start floating and no team in college basketball could have lived up to it. But again, I digress.)

Now just nine games into this campaign, it has become clear that, if this trend continues, as it appears is inevitable, we can safely say that the Wat shot wasn't the beginning, it was the apex. The win against Kentucky and the rest of the success in 2011-2012 wasn't a rebirth, it was an overachievement.

2012-2013 wasn't the apex, it was the new normal, just with more talent. Gross underachievement.

Everything since then has been utterly disappointing.

The win over Kentucky was a great moment. The best moment since the 2002 team knocked off Duke. But it was, more than anything else, was an outlier.

So keep playing it on the intro video at Assembly Hall. Watch it after IU blows a lead and you're sad. It's a moment worth reliving. The best moments are always worth reliving. And that's what it was for this era of Indiana basketball. The best moment. Not the beginning. The apex.