No Sleep Till Football

Like Brooklyn Except It's Football

The State of Indiana Basketball

(edit: I’ve updated the standings to include Penn St. and this also reflects the recent Wisconsin/Minnesota game that was playing on Thursday (18FEB10) night.)

Indiana basketball is WAY DOWN from the heights of when it was one of the premier basketball programs in the country. Getting into the ins & outs of where IU has gone wrong and what they can do to get back would be nothing short of a post that would equal War & Peace in length. I just want to focus on one little stat: wins & losses!

I’m going to 20-years because it seems like a good enough cut off date. I also thought this was a good date because I want to assume that a 17-18 year old top flight recruit might take a look at his life span as a time to judge a program’s longevity.

Obviously if you look historically Indiana is a top-5 program. I think Indiana belongs in the same discussion as UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina & Kansas. Duke & Louisville are the two programs that come to mind following the Big-5. I still believe Indiana is a top-5 program, but recent success has to play a role at some point and this is where the line between top-5 program & not becomes a bit fuzzy.

My thinking is that if you want to be a top-5 program, you should at least have your conference locked down. That’s the first step. Going back to the 1990-1991 season and working our way forward we have the following up to date cumulative record of the Big 10 teams (minus Penn St.):

1 MICHIGAN ST. 455 193 .702
2 ILLINOIS 435 212 .672 19.5
3 INDIANA 407 231 .638 43
4 PURDUE 402 230 .636 45
5 WISCONSIN 396 231 .633 48.5
6 OHIO ST. 386 236 .621 56
7 IOWA 366 258 .587 77
8 MICHIGAN 369 264 .583 78.5
9 MINNESOTA 359 263 .576 84
10 PENN ST. 290 300 .492 136
11 NORTHWESTERN 223 353 .387 196

I tried to give some indication of where each team stands in relation to one another by the “GB” which is games behind. We see it used often in baseball standings but not so much in football or basketball.

What we see is that over the last 20 seasons, Indiana is currently 43 games behind Michigan St. in 3rd place. The current season isn’t over and given the talents of the two squads, that gap is only going to grow. Note too that as we progress each first year is going to be eliminated. For Indiana that is bad news because the first 10-years of this time period were coached by Bob Knight. In this 20-year span, here are the W-L breakdowns for the Indiana coaches:

Bob Knight: 231-83 (.736)
Kelvin Sampson: 46-19 (.708)
Mike Davis: 115-79 (.593)
Tom Crean: 15-41 (.268)

As the years go by we are going to be getting a lot more of Mike Davis & Tom Crean and a lot less of Bob Knight. This of course is going to make Indiana’s cumulative records look atrocious, especially so once the Bob Knight era is completely over during a 20-year span.

So the question becomes whether or not Indiana can make up that kind of gap and how can this happen?

The answer to the first question is no. Indiana simply can’t get back to that mountaintop being this far down. If the gap were to stay at 43-games, the best comparison would be Illinois. At the end of the 1998-1999 season, Illinois was 37 GB the first place team using only the records from 1990-1991 thru 1998-1999. The 98-99 year would be the next to last year that Lon Krugar would coach the Illini. Kruger hadn’t bee extremely successful at Illinois from 90-91 to 98-99. Illinois went 14-18 in 98-99 which is pretty poor by Illinois standards. In his last year Krugar followed it up by going 22-10, but he was still 37 games behind Big 10 leader Indiana.

The 2000-2001 season would be Bill Self’s first season at the helm and it didn’t take long for Self to start dominating Big 10 play. Self only spent 3 years at Illinois, but his 78-24 record is the best of any coach during that time in the Big 10. It’s a little short on sample size as Bob Knight is second on the list, but coached 7 more seasons! Self’s winning% was .765 while Knight’s was .736.

Self parlayed the Illinois job to Kansas and went on to win a National Championship and has his team primed to win another this season. Bruce Weber came in and took over for Self and won HUGE early on. Here is where Illinois makes up the 37 game gap after the 98-99 season.

At the end of the 2005-2006 season, Illinois had closed the gap to just a half game behind Big 10 leader Michigan St. Illinois managed to make up 36.5 games in just 7 seasons.

Can Indiana make that jump? Consider this. After the 98-99 season, Illinois was 37 games back, but after the 99-00 season they weren’t much better at 36.5 games back. That means they closed the gap by 36 games in 6 seasons from the 00-01 season to the 05-06 season. You want to know what their record was during that 6 season span?

It was 167-40.

That averages out to 27.8-6.7 per year for 6-straight seasons!

Indiana was 6-25 last season. They are on their way to 9-22 or 10-21 this season in my opinion. Is there anyway possible that Indiana might be on the verge of a run that would allow them to go 167-40 over a 6-year span?

There is no way!

Even worse is that Indiana ranks 3rd in the Big 10 right now in 20-year cumulative records, but there is a very good chance they’ll drop to 6th by the time the year is done. Purdue & Wisconsin are going to pass Indiana putting them assuredly in 5th place. I think Ohio St. has an outside shot at moving past Indiana which will put the Hoosiers in 6th and there is really now way they are climbing out of that hole in the short term.

Another thing that is hurting Indiana is that it doesn’t seem like other teams are going to completely tank.

Michigan St. is now what Indiana was during most of this 20-year span, but I have a hard time believing Tom Izzo is leaving anytime soon. He’s built Sparty into a national power and Izzo is too good of a coach to let that go down. Michigan St. is here to stay and they’ve built a sizable lead. There are no university presidents looking for any reason to fire Izzo. He’s writing his own check at this point and the Spartans are just as good a shot to get back to the Final 4 this season as anyone is.

Purdue is solid. People forget that basically the same team Purdue has this year can come back next season. I don’t think Robbie Hummel or JuJuan Johnson are leaving for the NBA early. That team is only going to get better and give Matt Painter a lot of credit. He made a lot of friends and contacts within the state while Kelvin Sampson & Mike Davis were screwing off.

Bo Ryan is an exceptional basketball coach and Wisconsin has made some significant gains. At the end of the 2002-2003 season Wisconsin was 8th in the Big 10 in record and were 53 games over .500. Right now they rank 5th and will probably rank 4th by season’s end. They are now 166 games over .500! Ryan is now 212-79 as HC of the Badgers. Over the last 20-years he’s the 4th most successful coach according to winning% in the Big 10. The only coaches in the Big 10 over the last 20-years with a better winning percentage are Bill Self, Bob Knight & Thad Matta.

Speaking of Thad Matta, Ohio St. is always going to be a factor because of the fact that Matta is an OUTSTANDING recruiter. A lot of Indiana fans want to bang on Matta’s inability to coach and is thought of more as an assembler of talent. I’m not sure about that. Either way, Matta is going to have Ohio St. winning games, and A LOT of them for the foreseeable future. Maybe he won’t win a championship with all the talent he’s accumulated, but going 24-9 every year isn’t awful either.

As an Indiana fan, I’m not as enamored with the other teams. Illinois is solid, but I’m not so sure about Bruce Weber. I have always thought fondly of John Beilein and Michigan certainly isn’t a school that lacks for the funds to ensure a top notch basketball experience for their players. I don’t think Tubby Smith is going to do wonders at Minnesota, but Smith has won wherever he’s gone so the Gophers will be competitive. Bill Carmody has his hands full at Northwestern, but good grief the Wildcats are 17-8 right now! What Ed DeChellis has done at Penn St. is nothing short of amazing! PSU was 27-11 last season and NIT champions! Things haven’t gone well for him this season, but he’s got that program in the right direction.

The coaching outlay of the Big 10 is different too. With Bob Knight you knew you were going to have the edge in coaching EVERY SINGLE TIME you took the court. With Mike Davis & Kelvin Sampson you don’t have that advantage. Even if Knight were still roaming the sidelines things would have gotten tougher.

Illinois was going through the Lou Henson/Lon Kruger era early on before Self built a foundation Weber cashed in on. Gene Keady was hitting a wall at Purdue before Painter took over. Michigan was dealing with Tommy Amaker. Wisconsin had Stu Jackson early on and Dick Bennett had to clean that mess up before starting to win which laid the foundation for Bo Ryan. Ohio St. dealt with Randy Ayres for a long time! Jim O’Brien needed a couple of seasons to win, but his last couple of seasons weren’t so hot. Minnesota had to live with Don Monson. Northwestern under Kevin O’Neill, Ricky Byrdsong & Bill Foster was atrocious. Iowa lost Tom Davis and was probably a little too hard on Steve Alford. Alford wasn’t fantastic, but over his 8-years as Iowa HC, the Hawkeyes averaged a 19-13 season. That’s a far cry from what Todd Lickliter has been able to do.

When you break it down, the Big 10 coaching landscape is tremendously stable. Interestingly enough, the most volatile coaching situation has been at Indiana as odd as it sounds given that Bob Knight was at IU for 30 years!

The problem for Indiana is that they aren’t going to post a great record this year. They aren’t going to post a great record next year in all liklihood. That means 2011-2012 might be the next possible chance that Indiana has to make inroads into the top tier of the Big 10. That would be Tom Crean’s 4th season at Indiana.

Historically Indiana is moving towards an all-time low. There is nothing to stop and it Hoosier Nation is probably along for the ride for at least another season. They need A LOT of things to start going right and to start going right immediately. If not, Indiana could find itself not only no longer being considered a top program, but also no longer being a top program in their own conference!


February 18, 2010 - Posted by | Basketball, Indiana


  1. Definitley interesting that Indiana is closer to Minnesota than Michigan St., and is getting closer by the year.

    That won't play well on the forums!


    Comment by Anonymous | February 18, 2010 | Reply

  2. You know what is sort of interesting about that is that a GREAT 2-3 year span can make up for a lot IF the leading team falls on hard times.

    A good example of this is the Mike Davis Indiana Hoosiers. Another example will be the Tom Crean Indiana Hoosiers early on although it's a bit different in that Crean didn't start on the mountain top the way Davis did when he took over for Knight.

    I've actually did this with one other conference and that is the ACC. They have a pretty good example too. North Carolina starts out this past 20-year period on top of the ACC, but when Dean Smith/Bill Guthridge left, Matt Doherty came in and Duke EXPLODED during that time.

    North Carolina has been fighting ever since to regain the top spot in the ACC.

    Even their recent run at greatness hasn't allowed them to overtake the Blue Devils and with UNC reeling this season and Duke winning a lot of games, the Heels will fall further behind.

    For Indiana, the problem is that they need Tom Izzo to take a fall and that simply isn't going to happen.

    Indiana has to get not only good, they need to be a top-5 or top-10 program almost immediately or else Sparty is going to take a gigantic lead.

    That simply isn't in the cards and unfortunately for HOOSIER NATION (me included) is that if you are into short attention spans, you probably have a hard time believing Indiana is a top-25 program and maybe not a top-5 program in the Big 10.

    IU needs history and it needs to sell that tradition ASAP because it's fading really really fast.

    A quick national championship could certainly change all that, but one of the big differences between UNC & IU is that UNC cut ties with Doherty after 3 seasons and called in the big guns with Roy.

    Indiana was content to spend 6 years with Mike Davis followed by 2 scandalous years of Kelvin Sampson.

    It's the same with Kentucky. People forget that Tubby won a championship and averaged about 27-28 wins a season in Lexington. That wasn't good enough. Gillepsie was a complete disaster and UK bailed after 2 seasons. They then hired a big gun in Calipari.

    The big difference between an Indiana and a UNC, Kentucky & Kansas is that those schools cut ties quick when it wasn't going to work. Indiana decided to ruin it's program for close to a decade and then hire Tom Crean to clean the mess up.

    I still think Bruce Pearl or Thad Matta should be the HC at Indiana and Indiana would be a top-10 team if either of those guys would have been hired. Maybe Crean will prove to be just as valuable, but my guess is that Indiana stuck too long with Davis and then screwed themselves with Sampson to the point where the program might be beyond repair.

    Comment by College Football Mafia | February 21, 2010 | Reply

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