When did you realize Indiana men’s basketball wouldn’t live up to the hype?
Maybe you never really bought it. You didn’t care that the Hoosiers were the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten. It didn’t matter that senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was the preseason conference player of the year, nor that freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino already had NBA draft stock.
You’d been hurt too many times to start believing now.
Maybe it was midway through the first half against the University of Kansas on Dec. 17, when graduate guard Xavier Johnson fell to the hardwood clutching a broken foot that ended his season after just 11 games.
But maybe you never lost hope, not even after a middling 12-8 conference record and a 77-73 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Maybe you held out until Sunday night, when No. 4 seed Indiana fell to No. 5 seed Miami 85-69 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps it was only then that you accepted a banner wasn’t coming home.
It’s hard to know how to feel about Indiana’s 2022-23 campaign. Do we commend the Hoosiers for what they accomplished amid adversity, or do we dwell on what could have been?
To be clear, I am a 22-year-old with a yet-fully formed brain who suffers a crisis of confidence every time he has to send an email. I am woefully unqualified to help you navigate a complex web of feelings.
However, I’ve also spent a ton of time watching and thinking about Indiana men’s basketball. That’s a lot of emotional digestion, so maybe I can help.
The first thing several Hoosiers will point to when recalling this season is Johnson’s injury. The trio of Jackson-Davis, Johnson and Hood-Schifino shared the floor in only seven games, including the 11 glorious minutes of the Kansas game when Johnson’s foot still had all its bones intact.
The two-headed backcourt monster of Johnson and Hood-Schifino, paired with an all-everything big man in Jackson-Davis, likely would have fared much better in the Big Ten. But a national championship? Winning six consecutive games in the span of 18 days against increasingly challenging opponents with drastically different play styles is kind of hard. Like, almost impossibly so.
However, if Indiana had the guards to complement its own big man, it might have survived Penn State and faced Purdue for the title. Call me crazy, but I like the Hoosiers’ odds against the Boilermakers.
Finishing a season of such high expectations without a banner stings. No question. But that doesn’t erase two wins against Purdue, Indiana’s first sweep of the historic rivalry since 2016. Indiana also boasts a finely aged road victory over Sweet 16 contender Xavier University and a decidedly less finely aged victory over March Madness absentee University of North Carolina, which started the season ranked No. 1.
In 10 years, I doubt most Indiana fans will think much about how well the North Carolina win aged, how Indiana’s shot chart changed with Johnson off the court or even how an outdated playstyle arguably doomed its tournament run.
Yes, they will absolutely feel a pang of sadness when they think about Johnson’s injury and what could have been, but most of the minutiae will come out in the wash. History, however deeply rooted in fact, is largely shaped by subjective memory.
Given time, fans will primarily recall Jackson-Davis dunking with the force of a freight train, senior forward Miller Kopp sprinting down the court after a 3-pointer with his tongue fully out and Hood-Schifino playing like an NBA starter who rolled up to a YMCA pickup game — when he wasn’t occasionally playing like a YMCA member who rolled up to an NBA game, that is.
Obviously, as a completely unbiased writer, I would never dare feel the slightest glint of emotion toward the Hoosiers. However, I have spent nearly four years making good and not-so-good memories at IU, many of which involve Indiana basketball. As this era of Hoosier hoops concludes, so does a climactic chapter in my own life.
So, while I would encourage you to not let your emotions get the best of you, I really can’t fault you for feeling them in the first place, whatever they may be. There is no right or wrong way to feel, of course.
Even if it is just a game, sports can carry immense importance, especially when closely attached to some part of your identity. Maybe that’s silly, but so are plenty of things that weigh heavily on our hearts and minds.
Personally, I can’t wait until I’m 86, all my friends are dead and I pass my days telling my grandchildren about Jackson-Davis dunking on five defenders at once or a guy named Miller Dudley Kopp who drained threes when he wasn’t reviewing local cold brew coffee on his TikTok.
“Uh-huh,” they’ll reply. “Sure, Grandpa. That’s nice.”
As my grandkids motion for the in-home nurse to bring me a warm glass of milk and wheel me to my bed, it won’t upset me that they don’t care at all about a basketball team that barely went .500 in conference play and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament six decades prior.
Because that team was still special to me. And honestly, that’s probably the only reason you need to feel something powerful.
Thank you for following reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz), columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) and photographer Alex Paul (.@alexpaulphoto) throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.