Our Content and Community Manager Mike D’Avria graduated from Indiana University in 2003. He was there for the firing of Coach Knight and the Cinderella run to the National Championship game in 2002. He is typically a pessimistic IU fan, but somehow he is optimistic about their chances against Kentucky this Saturday. Here’s his take, along with why the Hoosiers are no longer considered a national basketball threat — and haven’t been since the 1980s.
The movie Hoosiers ruined Indiana University basketball. The same can be said for the film Rudy and Notre Dame’s football slide the past 20-years. Hoosiers was released in November of 1986 and four months later I.U. was cutting down the nets on their fifth National Title. It was their last one. Rudy came out in 1993, and Notre Dame’s last title was in 1988.
Due to these films, Indiana basketball and Notre Dame football were changed forever. People who love these films — two of the best sports movies ever — romanticize Indiana basketball and Notre Dame football even though Hoosiers was about high school basketball and Rudy is a fictionalized tale of the underdog.
But, this does not change the feelings about these two schools for residents of the other 49 states in the country. They believe that the state of Indiana is an amazing basketball state filled with kids who got their start by shooting free throws on a hoop attached to a barn. This may have been true in the 1950s, but the state of Indiana is not pumping out basketball prodigies like Jimmy Chitwood that can compete in today’s NCAA — and even if they were, Chitwood wouldn’t last ten minutes on the court against a John Calipari led Kentucky team.
Indiana University and the University of Kentucky have a very similar basketball history. They’ve both had teams playing for more than 100 years, they have both won several National Titles, and they both have a diehard fan base that still cheer for their teams even during off years. But, why has Kentucky continued to be a national powerhouse every single season while Indiana hasn’t been a serious contender since the 1980s?
It’s a simple answer really.
Indiana still recruits the same way they always have. Indiana recruits homegrown talent from within their borders, or they recruit student-athletes from other states who can play “Indiana-style” basketball. Kentucky doesn’t have a “style” of basketball — unless one can call “winning” a style of basketball.
Kentucky basketball is not stuck in the 1950s — even though most of their state is (sorry, that was a cheap shot.) Indiana basketball is. Take a look at those charts below. Of the 10 players on the UK roster with the most playing time, 20% of them are from Kentucky. Historically, only 25% of their best alums who went on to long NBA careers went to high school in Kentucky — and 20% of their best alums actually grew up in Indiana. The Hoosiers on the other hand have 40% local talent on their current roster and an incredible 70% of their NBA alums grew up in Indiana. Click each chart to open in full size.
The Hoosiers still want local talent who can play on the national level. But is the state of Indiana churning out these types of players? No. Even if they do occasionally, they wind up at a rival school — see Greg Oden, Sean May, and Tyler Zeller. Bob Knight had the ability to attract great national prospects due to his coaching method, but he still made these future NBA stars go to class, listen to every word he said, and deal with the fact that he will occasionally choke them during practice. Mike Davis had no business replacing Coach Knight — any IU alum knows you have to call him Coach Knight, right Kent Harvey? Kelvin Sampson did way more damage to IU than almost any coach could ever do, and now Tom Crean is cleaning up the mess left behind him. Crean is finally getting the nation talking about Indiana basketball again by starting off this season at 8-0, but facing a #1 ranked Kentucky this Saturday could easily lead to being embarrassed on a national stage.
Personally, I think IU has a great chance to beat Kentucky this Saturday. This is in no way based on any type of fact or statistic I could actually provide. I’m cautiously optimistic due to the unknown element about this season so far — for IU and UK.
Both teams are undefeated with Kentucky’s biggest win coming against North Carolina. Indiana’s biggest win is against N.C. State. On paper, UNC is a much better team than N.C. State. But, Kentucky beat UNC on their home court while Indiana won on the road (I was actually at the game) and the N.C. State fans are surprisingly loud — their wolf call four dozen times during the game is unsurprisingly annoying though.
Indiana has not played any great teams yet, but they have won by the following point margins during their eight-game winning streak: 30, 25, 21, 29, 24, 16, 11, and 34. Indiana hasn’t just beaten these no-name schools; they have blown them out.
And that’s why I am optimistic about this upcoming game. No one really knows what might happen. Kentucky has a bunch of future NBA stars that might not be able to play team basketball — although Calipari has proven this doesn’t necessarily matter. IU on the other hand has one really well known player, and that’s only because his older brother is a star at UNC.
But who knows what might happen Saturday? Cody Zeller might have some hidden switch that he turns on to prove that his team has the ability to beat Kentucky when his older brother’s team couldn’t. Maybe Victor Oladipo becomes unstoppable knowing that he’s on national television playing against the #1 ranked team. Maybe Crean has been waiting for this moment his entire career and has figured out how to win against a Calipari-led team.
No one gave Milan High School a chance during the 1954 Indiana state championship game and no one is giving Indiana a chance this Saturday. Maybe all the Hoosiers need is some tight shorts and a tub full of pomade in their hair to beat the Goliath known as the Kentucky Wildcats.