John Feinstein’s A Season on the Brink, a classic inside look at Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers, began with a recap of a 1984-85 campaign that seemed to have it all when it comes to disappointment.
A promising previous season. An equally hopeful start to the current season. Warning signs even in the early victories. The point when the reality of the Big Ten season kicks in, and the winning stops. Players facing disciplinary actions. Matters getting progressively worse instead of better. The beloved coach suddenly being questioned for his in-game decisions.
Sound familiar? It should, because history is repeating itself in 2014.
This has been a rough season for IU fans, especially considering the last two seasons that seemed to indicate that even if the Hoosiers did not win a national championship, Indiana was finally “back.” Now, another NCAA tournament-less March is inevitable. Obviously, a down year was expected in 2014, but not to the current extent.
Of course, Indiana rarely missed the NCAA tournament under Bob Knight, but expectations were especially high given IU’s 1984 run to the Elite Eight. Senior-to-be Dan Dakich had just shut down Michael Jordan, and Steve Alford had blossomed during his freshman year, earning a spot on Knight’s Olympic team. With that said, expectations were reasonably high for 1985.
It didn’t happen. Beginning with an early losing streak that led to Knight famously benching every starter except Uwe Blab at Illinois, Indiana began to tumble through the Big Ten. Victories against bottom conference teams gave the Hoosiers a small sign of hope for turning the season around, but more losses followed.
Similarly, despite upset wins against Wisconsin and Michigan and a close game at Michigan State, it was losses to Northwestern and Nebraska that signaled this year’s decline. The collapse at home against Penn State was essentially the icing on the cake. While Tom Crean has not pulled a “Uwe and the Four Freshmen” yet, certain lineup changes have had fans scratching their heads.
There was trouble within the 1985 team off the court. Winston Morgan was in and out of Knight’s doghouse because of dishonesty, Marty Simmons was constantly in trouble due to his weight and eating habits and leading rebounder Mike Giomi was repeatedly in trouble for issues such as failing to pay parking tickets before finally being bounced from the team for cutting classes. Simmons left for Evansville after the season.
This year’s team chemistry has taken hits as well. Luke Fischer left the team shortly before Christmas, Jeremy Hollowell was briefly benched in January and Hanner Mosquera-Perea is now out indefinitely after his arrest Friday morning.
Finally, despite having just won an Olympic gold medal as the United States’ head coach, in addition to his two national titles with the Hoosiers, Knight found himself in the rare position of being questioned for his coaching. Crean is now facing similar criticism from fans and experts alike, many of whom labeled him as more of a recruiter than a coach.
The 1985 frustration culminated in one of the most famous (and infamous) moments in IU basketball history, Knight throwing a chair and being ejected early in a loss to Purdue. In other words, it can be argued that the only thing missing from this Indiana basketball season is Crean losing his temper and throwing a chair himself, although it is highly doubtful.
The ’85 Hoosiers would ultimately settle for the NIT, losing to Reggie Miller and the UCLA Bruins in a title game that could be argued as a reason that the Indiana Pacers controversially selected the future Hall of Famer instead of homegrown star Alford in the 1987 NBA Draft. This year’s IU squad is now essentially playing for an NIT berth as opposed to a spot in the College Basketball Invitational.
Still, if the infamous 1985 season is any indication, all is not always lost from a lost season. As Feinstein’s book explains in detail, the then-critical 1985-86 season turned out to be much better, as Indiana came within one victory of a Big Ten title. Of course, the blowout loss to Michigan and subsequent first round upset by Cleveland State left Knight frustrated with his team again. But more recruits came in, including Keith Smart, and every Indiana fan knows what that led to in 1987.
With that said, fans should remain optimistic about the Hoosiers’ future. A sixth championship banner is not immediately likely, but with Will Sheehey being the only key senior about to depart, the team will continue to improve with new recruits and especially if Noah Vonleh stays an extra year.
This is not the season any Indiana fan wanted, but it is time to look beyond the “brink.”