The 2016-2017 Indiana Basketball season tipped off last night in Hawaii against #3 Kansas, a team that I have historical disliked rather strongly – mostly because in my lifetime we’ve only beaten them once, including two losses in the NCAA tournament, first in 1991, then in 1993, when we should have won the whole damn thing were it not for Alan Henderson’ injury. I have frequently told people that I’m still mad at Kansas for 1993.
But as tip off got closer and closer, I wondered how much that was still true. I wasn’t feeling any type of passion about playing Kansas again. What’s worse, though, is I wasn’t feeling any type of passion about the regular season tipping off.
It’s pretty easy to chalk this up to a whole host of external factors that have nothing at all to do with IU Basketball. For instance, I don’t know if you know this or not, but on Tuesday we elected a man for president who had a written endorsement from the KKK. That’s the kind of thing the weighs on body. I know many of you reading this voted for him, so I won’t dwell on how sad this whole thing makes me for the people in the country who don’t look like me (40 year old white guy, in case you wondered), but let’s just say I’ve not felt awesome all week and go on talking about Indiana Basketball, because if nothing else, our shared fandom can stand as a reminder that the people who don’t agree with us about politics may well agree with us about other things. And people who share something between them find it harder to demonize one another.
But blaming my malaise on the election is a cop out.
We had this thing happen where I live last week where the local professional men’s baseball club won a sports ball championship, their first such championship in longer than almost anyone on the planet has been alive. It was pretty exciting for the entire city, much of Twitter, my Facebook Timeline, the rest of the country not in Cleveland. I watched all of it. I enjoyed it. I was happy for the Cubs and for my fellow Chicagoans. But most of what I felt during game seven was a. tired and b. annoyed at the rain delay mostly because of a. I was sound asleep 10 minutes after the game ended.
I avoided the parade – I don’t really get lining up to watch traffic. I was happy, but I wasn’t excited.
And If you can’t get excited about your local team winning their first World Series Championship in over a century, maybe it isn’t possible to get excited about sports.
This was my fear heading into the IU v. Kansas game last night.
I had nothing to worry about.
I was so into this game, so into this win, so into this team last night, so excited to see the way this team played, fought, and won that it seems crazy I ever doubted myself or my passion.
It turns out that I just care WAY more about an early November college basketball game than I care about an early November baseball game.
Here are the things I loved about this win.
- Thomas Bryant. Enjoy him now, kids, cuz he’s gone. He’s developed a step-back three-pointer and the ability to make really good passes from the perimeter. The pros now know this. He is gone. So, love him this year. He’s gonna be fun to watch.
- Curtis Jones. I like the way he plays. I’m going to love the way he plays with about 20 lbs of muscle on him.
- Our versatility. We played a number of different guys, and because of foul trouble, a number of different line ups and we should have won the game in regulation, but still managed to get it in overtime.
- James Blackmon, Jr. I wondered aloud and into my phone in the first half if it’s possible he’s just not a smart basketball player, and I’m still not sure what the answer to that is, but he is tough and he can score. He put the team on his back down the stretch and delivered the win. Thomas set the tone and led the team in the first half. In the second half and overtime, it was James’ team. I’ll take that every game.
Here are some things I wasn’t super-thrilled with.
- Free throws. Dear lord, the free throws. Let’s chalk this up to early season rust, but pay attention to it. If it doesn’t improve it’s going to be an issue.
- Shot selection. We took a lot of step in threes that were universally unsuccessful and we drove directly into people and tried to score through their arms a lot. We got a lot of fouls from the latter, but still. We took a lot of bad shots. And that big run Kansas made toward the end of the 1st half to go up by 9 was fueled almost entirely by terrible shot selection.
- Our defense isn’t terrible like it was in Hawaii last November, but there are a lot of guys on this team who play weak-side defense with their feet in very awkward positions and it costs us points on a number of occasions. We also allowed a lot of drives to the basket that I’d like to see stopped before they become lay ups.
But, man that was fun!
If you’ll recall, I wasn’t sure we were any good last year until right around February. Last night I knew by halftime. This season could be a lot of fun.
Back-to-back conference titles anyone?