Pope: Indiana’s promising season ends with disappointment
By LaMond Pope firstname.lastname@example.org March 29, 2013 11:30PM
Indiana forward Cody Zeller (40) sits on the bench on the closing minutes of Indiana's loss in an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Thursday, March 28, 2013 in Washington. Syracuse defeated Indiana 61-50. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Updated: May 1, 2013 3:49PM
WASHINGTON — This wasn’t how the story was supposed to end for the 2012-13 Indiana basketball team.
Not after key contributors like Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford fought through the lows of the lows during their freshmen and sophomore seasons.
Not after last season’s revival. Knocking off No. 1 Kentucky. Reaching the Sweet 16.
That set the stage for taking that next step.
Everyone thought so. The Hoosiers were preseason No. 1 in the national polls. They sat atop the rankings for 10 weeks. They won on the road, picking up impressive victories at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
IU did all the work to earn a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
Surely a lengthy tournament run to the Final Four in Atlanta would follow. That’s how the script goes, right?
Turns out, not so much.
Instead, Indiana’s season came to a close once again in the regional semifinal, falling to Syracuse 61-50 Thursday at Verizon Center. And to make matters worse, it might have been the worst the team has looked all year long.
“It’s tough to sit down and realize that was your last game,” senior forward Derek Elston said. “We had thought we had a lot of basketball left.”
The Hoosiers couldn’t figure out Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. IU couldn’t hit shots (33.3 percent from the floor) and couldn’t hold on to the ball (19 turnovers, matching a season high).
“It was tough to penetrate and they were long up top. We tried to enter it too many times and we turned it over,” IU forward Will Sheehey said. “We never got into the flow we wanted to. We were a little bit too passive.”
Even when Indiana cut the deficit to six points with 14:12 to go, there wasn’t a sense the Hoosiers would get over the hump.
“Coming into the second half, we strung some stuff together, cut that lead to single digits, and I figured we could get rolling from there,” freshman guard Yogi Ferrell said. “It was frustrating. We let off the gas. We were at full throttle at the beginning of the second half, but we kind of eased up, and we couldn’t get over it.”
And now comes the offseason questions. And there are many for the Hoosiers.
Indiana could have just one starter returning next season, Ferrell.
Hulls and Watford are done. Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller could be headed to the NBA draft.
The two didn’t want to discuss future plans on Thursday.
IU coach Tom Crean is ready to assist any way he can.
“I’m sure I will do what I would always do, try to be a voice of reason, do the right research, try to give them as honest of an assessment as I possibly can,” Crean said. “It won’t come from dotcoms and scouts, it will come from general managers, scouting directors, people like that that really have an investment in what those picks mean and where they would potentially go — just like we’ve done last year, and try to give them the best advice they could possibly have.
“Be supportive of them and their families through the entire process and treat them with love and care like we always have.”
Those decisions are for down the line.
It will take some time, but this group will eventually realize what it accomplished. The first outright Big Ten title in 20 years and consecutive Sweet 16 appearances for the first time since 1993 and 1994 are both impressive feats. Especially given where the program was just a short time ago.
“There will be a time to celebrate them. They’ve done things that have not been done in Indiana for a long, long time. They did it from scratch,” Crean said. “Every once in a while it’s easy to forget that, and I know I forget it some, but I think when we look back at it we will know that these guys came in, sight unseen. Jordan certainly knew what the program was about, but Christian really didn’t, Will didn’t, those guys that are older guys now and they came in and made it a big-time place again.
“When we look at that, we will feel good abut that and there’s a lot of things to celebrate for them, but it’s one of those things its hard to put that into context or perspective tonight.”