11th in the Big Ten

It seems entirely appropriate that IU finished the season ranked 11th in a conference that, according to its name, includes just 10 teams. It was just that kind of a season.

I haven’t written about my Hoosiers at all this season, save for making Coach Tom Crean one of my 1o Most Fascinating People because of the enthusiasm with which he showed up to clean up the mess that the IU men’s basketball program had become. It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to write. A combination of lack of time and lack of words have prevented me. I just didn’t know what to say because despite their rotten record, I had a really good time with the Hoosiers this season.

It was a long, cold season in terms of weather and shooting. The team broke all the wrong records and ended up with the most losses in school history. It wasn’t entirely unexpected since there were exactly two returning players, but it was still hard to watch the red-and-white jerseys struggle and fail so many times. It just didn’t feel right. IU basketball is not supposed to be this way. It was like when Christopher Walken hosted SNL last year and read from the cue cards. Maybe he was having a rebuilding year too.

Even though they won only one conference game, I never gave up on the Hoosiers. It wasn’t as if I expected them to win because that hope died pretty quickly; I just expected them to play. And they did. They played hard and they played with energy. They didn’t always play with skill, but there were moments of brilliance. In those moments, I saw the future, as did every single basketball commentator. The sportscasters this season couldn’t say enough good things about Tom Crean and IU. It has to be the most praise a 6-25 team has ever gotten. Crean’s clean-up job is far from over—indeed, its scope resembles President Obama’s in some ways, and Rachel Maddow could definitely do a Scrub, Rinse, Repeat segment about IU basketball—but it was a fun season anyway.

The thing that made this season so special isn’t in the numbers. It’s a feeling I got watching the team. They smiled when they played. They never hung their heads or acted like they were down by 30 points (which was true more than once). They just played basketball without controversy (*cough* Kelvin Sampson *cough*) or hype (*cough* Eric Gordon *cough*). Like most IU fans, I can’t wait until next season. The recruits look really good, but the guys from this season will always be special to me because they came to IU when everyone else couldn’t get far away enough fast enough.

And how adorable is Verdell Jones?