IU Basketball: What Went Wrong?

Nathan Goergen

All good things must come to an end, and if there’s one college basketball program that’s embraced that saying, it’s the Indiana Hoosiers. IU is currently 11-8 at the time of the writing of this article, and nothing seems to be looking up. Sophomore and Center Grove product Trayce Jackson-Davis is looking like the only shining light for IU at the moment, and while he is good, one man can’t carry a team to success, especially in the extremely competitive Big Ten. While this could be seen as just a down year, it’s pretty clear that mediocrity is becoming a trend for the Hoosiers. IU hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2016, and haven’t made the final four since 2002, a tournament in which they lost to Maryland in the final.

Indiana has been on a steady decline since 2000 when legendary coach Bob Knight left Bloomington in a termination that was so controversial, ESPN made a 30 for 30 over it. The next coach, Mike Davis, got the team to the finals with players that were mostly recruited by Knight, and when those players graduated, the program started to slowly decline. A major issue with IU laid in recruiting. They never seemed to get the top talent needed to be a true threat in the Big Ten. Of course, programs can succeed without top recruits. Iowa for example is currently succeeding without a top recruit or recruits because they were able to develop the players they had well from the start. Davis was able to score D.J. White, but that was the only notable name in a list of duds.

After Davis left in 2006, Kelvin Sampson was coaching the Hoosiers for a year and a half. While his time at IU was short, he was able to get IU the top recruit they needed. Eric Gordon, the North Central High School graduate, committed to Indiana. While his time there was short, it was the biggest recruit IU had gotten in a long time and was able to put the Hoosiers back on the map.

After Sampson resigned due to recruiting violations during the 2007-08 season, leaving Dan Dakich, who had just come off a coaching stint at Bowling Green, to be the interim head coach, Indiana went big and hired Tom Crean. Crean had previously served as the head coach at Marquette and went down as a legend in Milwaukee for finding and developing Dwyane Wade and Steve Novak among others. This was the perfect coach for IU, as he could provide both recruiting skills and could develop talent extremely well.

Boy, did Crean live up to the hype recruiting wise. Most of the best recruits IU ever got was during the Crean era, scoring names like Noah Vonleh, Cody Zeller, Yogi Ferrell, and Thomas Bryant, as well as developing a three-star recruit from Upper Marlboro, Md. by the name of Victor Oladipo. Crean’s efforts culminated in an extremely hyped-up 2012-13 season, in which they started out the year number 1 in the nation. A team with Oladipo, Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and Will Sheehey looked destined to put IU basketball back on top of the world. For the most part, they were able to live up to the hype. They finished the regular season number 2 in the nation, and after losing in the Big Ten semifinals, were awarded a number 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

They couldn’t make it past the sweet sixteen.

The inability to go all the way put IU on another downward spiral. Crean’s recruits, besides Ferrell and Bryant, weren’t developing like they should’ve. They missed the tournament the next year, and after getting to the second round in the 2015 tournament, IU rebounded for the 2015-16 campaign, finishing the regular season 12th in the nation, and after losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, they managed to get a 5 seed. Unfortunately, they lost to North Carolina in the sweet sixteen in what would be as of now, the last time IU played in the tournament.

Crean would be fired the next season after missing the big dance. Archie Miller, previously the head coach at Dayton, was hired in his place. However, the highlight (and also lowlight) of the Miller era thus far has been the recruiting of Romeo Langford, only to watch him not develop properly and be a liability on the team on some nights. In Langford’s only season, the 2018-19 season, IU started out guns blazing with a 12-2 record, only to collapse in dramatic fashion, going 5-12 for the remainder of the regular season, and losing in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, which punched their ticket to the NIT (which, you guessed it, they couldn’t get past the quarterfinals).

Last season was also not good, going 19-12 to finish the regular season, and winning the first game of the Big Ten tournament before everything was shut down in the blink of an eye due to COVID-19.

IU has in recent years become almost a joke in the Big Ten. It’s almost as if they’ve become the Dallas Cowboys of college basketball: a once-storied program, filled with legendary players and coaches, all gone. The program is well past its prime, and things don’t look to be much better. Unless Indiana can figure out a way to develop their lesser-skilled recruits into serviceable players, this program will be doomed. However, there is hope. Jackson-Davis is expected to return next year, and IU landed their biggest recruit since Langford in Kristian Lander of Evansville, Ind. The Hoosiers can return to relevance again, but it will take some work to dig out of the hole they’ve created.

Story by Nathan Goergen