Indiana Upsets Kentucky: Once Great Program Re-Emerges

David BurnettCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2011

Christian Watford
Christian WatfordAndy Lyons/Getty Images

Christian Watford’s game-winning three-pointer against No. 1 Kentucky was reminiscent of the last time Indiana University won a national championship—nearly 25 years ago against Syracuse.  While the buzzer-beater obviously won the game, symbolically it did much more than that. 

Indiana fans, who stormed the floor in joyous celebration Saturday, had been waiting for a moment like that for long time.  The stunning upset was literally a program resuscitator, that may have officially ushered in a new era of prominence for Hoosier basketball.  Even sweeter for the Hoosiers, the victory means, for now at least, Indiana remains undefeated.   

Indiana basketball was once one of the nation’s best and most celebrated programs.  It had been led by legendary, but volatile, coach Bob Knight for nearly 30 years, winning three national championships during his reign.  But Knight’s temper eventually cost him his job and since then the program has never been the same.   

Despite playing in the national championship game against Maryland in 2002, fans and boosters never quite took to Knight’s replacement, Mike Davis, a former Hoosiers assistant, who always seemed lost and overwhelmed coaching in Knight’s large shadow.     

And when Davis eventually resigned, his replacement, Kelvin Sampson, despite an impressive resume and a string of victories in Bloomington, plunged the formerly scandal-free program into devastating NCAA sanctions.  Indiana has since struggled for wins and respectability.   

Current Indiana coach Tom Crean, hired to replace Sampson, has had his work cut out rebuilding the Indiana program.  But now in his fourth season, Crean’s recruiting efforts are finally bearing fruit, led by junior forward Watford and freshman center, Cody Zeller.   

For the last two years, Butler University, home of the famous Hinkle Fieldhouse, located not far away in Indianapolis, has served as a sort of improbable statewide fill-in for the Indiana Hoosiers, which had long been the state’s signature college basketball team.   

Butler reached two straight national championship games, something that not even Indiana had done.  But for all of the love that has been heaped on Butler recently, a return to form by the Hoosiers will likely be even more warmly embraced.