All heart. All heart. All heart.
I am not going to even look at the box score or look at the highlights or even go off the several text messages I got with some “analysis’ from close IU friends. Nope, I am going to write this straight from my heart. I am so deeply in love with this squad, not only for their resurgence back into the national scene, but for their fight, never-quit attitude they display on every game-night. I’ll be the first admit, the pressure & stress of this game got to me. I mean, we haven’t been to the Sweet 16 in 10 years – not since that magical run to the title game as a 5-seed when Mike Davis at the helm. In fact, before tonight, the only time we had been to the Sweet 16 since 1995 was in 2002. We are talking about 17 years, of a collegiate team still considered the elite of the elite only going to the 2nd weekend of March Madness ONCE since 95. With a victory tonight we had a chance to match our win total from the previous 3 years COMBINED. I dislike the cliché ‘We’re Back’ shirts that marketing America is trying to leverage on the Hoosiers behalf. But, with a victory tonight, that cheesy cliché/phrase becomes very true. Because in terms on program status – there is no better judge that the performance & outcomes during the 4 week madness of March college basketball.
Virginia Commonwealth University. The VCU rams. The ‘darlings’ of mid-majors. A tournament team that many have fallen in love with since their improbable run to the Final Four last year. Their coach, Shaka Smart, is perhaps the most sought after coach in all of collegiate basketball (taking the place of Butler’s Brad Stevens – which is debatable). What does he do best? His players completely buy in to whatever he says. A true definition of a leader. And the biggest surprise is that they only returned 1 starter from last year’s miracle run. But they play tough with what they call their ‘havoc’ defense. They upset (if you can really call that) Wichita State, a team that represented the mid-majors best chance for a deep run when the brackets were announced. And they faced the Indiana Hoosiers, an elite program with the tradition of Christmas and green beer on St Patrick’s Day. And they rose to the challenge.
How in the hell did we pull off that victory tonight? Well it goes to show not only the young talent that IU possesses, but also a leader in Tom Crean that has the players’ attention every time he speaks. Basically trailing the entire second half – the will of the Cream & Crimson refused to break. Our star freshman, who can easily take his talents to the NBA next year, used his quick feet, high basketball IQ, and his to the buzzer sounds type play and led the Hoosiers. But not with the help of his teammates. Christian Watford, now arguably our upper-classmen leader played solid. Oladipo, besides some crazy, out-of-control, force the basketball at all costs played well. Not only with his highlight dunks, but also with the play that pretty much saved the season, which pretty much led IU to the Sweet 16, when he took it to the left and drove the ball to the hoop drawing a foul and converting the lay-up. More importantly, he made the free throw that tied the game. Then game back the VCU rams who had, for the most part, outplayed the Hoosiers by forcing more turnovers than IU had all season (and Jordan Hulls… what happened to you tonight??? After a brilliant game in the 1st round… you looked nothing like the floor general we need you to be… to the point that Crean ripped you on a time out in the 1st half and even more telling on the bench during the final seconds of the win. I’m giving you a break for all the good/great things you have done for IU this season – but we need you to play a lot SMARTER for us to have a chance to advance past the next game). Anyway, we forced VCU forced a 3 pointer and Oladipo got the board and much to my dismay, instead of holding for the last shot, drove straight for the basket. It resulted in a blocked lay-up attempt that landed in the hand of a wide open Will Sheehy (basketball Gods… THANK YOU) where he converted a wide open 10 foot baseline jumper to give the Hoosiers their 1st lead since very early in the 2nd half.
IU up 63-61 with a little over 12 seconds left. Two timeouts called by Shaka Smart and a hellacious wait with some of the worst commercials I have ever seen. Pacing back and forth – pacing back and forth – pacing back and forth. Would VCU go for the win or for the tie? The Rams took their time and then made their move. They went off an elbow pick, the ball-handler driving towards Cody and the basket which caused Oladipo to cheat over for some back-side help. The ball was kicked out to a WIDE OPEN VCU 3-point shooter who with the world watching, the adrenaline pumping put up a 3 for the win. It hit the front of the rim. It bounded up and looked like it could have dropped into the hoop after it bounced above the shot clock with the wide arms of the net inviting you to drop…
And it fell harmlessly to the ground. Game Over. IU to the SWEET SIXTEEN!!! More analysis to come in the next week as we prepare for the rematch of the year against UK. But until then, take a deep breath and enjoy the glory of the continued resurgence of Indiana Basketball. One of my most favorite parts of the game? The post-game interview where Crean took a shot at Seth Davis, an “expert analyst” who didn’t think the Hoosiers had a shot to get to the sweet 16 since our games weren’t in Assembly Hall. WRONG. We conquered Portland. Up next… Atlanta. A place where we won the semi-final game against OK in 02. Will the magic be recreated? Time will tell. But until then… HOOSIERS!!!!!