Since the last days of the Bobby Knight era at Indiana, the program has been in tumult. Whether it was the happenings that ran the old codger out of town, Mike Davis’s tantrum at Freedom Hall, Kelvin Sampson’s cheating, or Tom Crean’s inconsistencies, it’s been a couple decades, now, since the program has made fans happy.
Even when the Davis and Crean eras were at their respective peaks — after a national runner-up finish, fans wanted to let it be known that Davis did that with “Bobby’s boys,” and even after Crean won two Big Ten titles in four seasons, there were plenty of people unhappy with the tournament failures, the missed dances, the pants that didn’t fit, and the roster void of Indiana kids — fans weren’t content.
They wanted the things they wanted. A coach who stresses fundamentals and defense. A bunch of Indiana kids with a high basketball IQ that played the game the right way.
Then things started happening.
Indiana got the hottest coach on the market after the 2016-17 season in Archie Miller, and while his first season had its downs — a 16-15 record bookended with embarrassing losses to Indiana State and Rutger — it also had its ups, including a much-improved defense, evident talent amongst the youth, and Juwan Morgan’s emergence as one of the Big Ten’s top players.
Then, thanks to rampant rules violations at the University of Louisville, Miller landed the highest-touted recruit since Damon Bailey donned the cream and crimson. The best part about landing Romeo Langford for most Indiana fans? He’s an Indiana kid.
In fact, seven players on the 2018-19 roster are from Indiana.
You’ve got your coach. You’ve got your Indiana kids. What’s left to do but win?
The window could be short, though, as Romeo Langford is a one-and-done and Juwan Morgan’s eligibility lapses at the end of this season. Sure, Keion Brooks and Trayce Jackson-Davis might commit to wearing candystripes, but there’s no guarantee. What Indiana basketball has in front of it as the 2018-19 campaign is set to begin is a single opportunity to prove the fans right or wrong.
It’s been 20 years since Indiana fans had all that they wanted — a top-notch coach and a roster full of Indiana kids. You’ve got it now. If they don’t win, you should shut up.
I’m not suggesting that for this season to be a success the Hoosiers have to win it all. That’s a tall task for a roster that, despite adding Romeo Langford, doesn’t have nearly enough talent to do so. But I am suggesting that for the fans who wanted a new coach, defense, and Indiana kids, this is the only chance you get to prove that these were all pre-requisites for winning at Indiana, for returning to glory. And contending for a Big Ten title, a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, and being a legitimate threat to make a deep run in March are the things you need to break your way if you want to say “I told you so.”
But beyond wanting some fans to be quiet about how it should be done, if the Hoosiers can’t show that they’ve got the blueprint to returning to relevance and prominence, it’s time for all of us to shut up about the program’s importance.
More than 30 years since the last national title. More than 15 years since the last Final Four. It’s getting harder and harder to act like this program matters. And if they can’t do it this year, we should all be quiet.