IU must make Final Four or season falls short

How much more does Indiana have to achieve this season for it to be deemed a success? Or, have the Hoosiers already done enough? Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star recently wrestled with the conundrum.

Hutchens, who has covered Hoosiers hoops for 15 years, thinks Indiana already has had a successful season based on what it has achieved: The program’s first outright Big Ten title since 1992-93 and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, among other things, are proof of a job already well done this season.

That, of course, is preposterous. This team must reach the Final Four—it has to reach the Final Four. If not, the season will fall short of expectations.

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Indiana began the season No. 1 and enjoyed 10 weeks atop the polls this winter. And, as a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance—No. 3 overall—the Hoosiers have to at the very least get to the Final Four in Atlanta for 2012-13 to be deemed a success.

Period. End of story.

Now, a trip to the national championship would be gravy, as Indiana aims for its first junket to the Final Four since 2002 and first national championship since 1987, when Keith Smart sunk Syracuse with that memorable last-second shot in the Superdome in New Orleans. But a Final Four visit? It’s a must.

This program has crawled all the way out of the hole dug by the despicable and unscrupulous Kelvin Sampson, who set this glorious program back on a crippling probation. IU went a combined 8-46 in Big Ten games during Tom Crean’s first three seasons in “Gloomington.” Expectations were nil back then.

But, not now. The underdog days are over. There are no more Brett Finkelmeiers on the roster. Indiana is back. The Hoosiers went 27-9 last season and made it to the Sweet 16. THAT was unexpected and overachieving.

Now, more is expected. More is demanded. Indiana is a national power again.

Again, Indiana is back.

In fact, I even heard Hoosiers A.D. Fred Glass proclaim as much when I was in Assembly Hall for the season opener against  some team named “Bryant” in November when Glass unexpectedly announced a contract extension for Crean. Here is what Glass said that night during the love-in:

“Indiana University basketball is back and it is back because of that man right over there,” Glass said as he pointed at Crean.

“Tom Crean has done an absolutely phenomenal job bringing Indiana University back to its rightful place as one of the elite basketball programs in the country,” Glass added in a university release that day. “His energy, integrity, ability, passion, industry, vision and commitment are unparalleled.”

So, if the sports boss of Indiana thinks the program is back, why should the Hoosiers be satisfied with a pat on head and job-well-done salute if their season flames out in Washington, D.C., in the East Region with a loss to Syracuse in the Sweet 16 or in the Elite Eight to either Miami (Fla.) or Marquette?

No offense, but beating James Madison and Temple in the first two games of the tourney proved jack squat. IU is supposed to trump foes like that. This is why Crean is the seventh-highest paid coach in America. He isn’t being paid around $3.16 mil per year for Sweet 16 trips and wins over JMU and Temple.

Now is when the NCAA tourney gets REALLY interesting, when reputations are honed and salaries with six zeros behind them are earned. Indiana was supposed to make it to this stage of the Big Dance. The Hoosiers are a national big boy. The roster is stacked with talent like Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. Experience abounds and Crean has one of the fattest wallets among college hoop coaches.

Add all of this up, and it’s simple to see that this Indiana squad has the stuff of Final Four teams—and perhaps the stuff of national championship teams.

Why soften on expectations now? Because of a close call to Temple?

Nope. Indiana is all grown up again. So, let’s treat it as such—and expect as much.

***

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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2 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (2 Comments)
Doug on 3/29/2013 @ 12:03am EDT Said:

Indiana did win the big ten regular season title, and was ranked # 1 for 10 weeks…BUT to get blown out in the sweet 16, I would say that’s a disappointing end for sure to an otherwise great season. Elston, Shehe, Hulls, Watford, Oladipo, and Zeller all gone from next year’s team.

Reality check on 3/29/2013 @ 11:49am EDT Said:

The nation will be less interested now unless Michigan wins it all, you need to treat Larry with more respect, he is a good employee and a brilliant basketball mind

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