Before the various basketball seasons come to an end and fade into memory, I just want to take a moment to talk about what a delight the season has been. Given the realities of tournament basketball, the strong likelihood is that any team I care about will end its season with a loss and then fade into memory. The West Side basketball teams have already hit that end. The WL boy’s team showed some resurgence as compared to last year and won quite a few games in the second half of the season. But they made a quick exit from the tournament. My main complaint with them was that their home games seemed few, far between, and unpredictably scheduled. The West Side girls were really good. Their main problem was being in a conference that was having a strong year overall. They had a good season and took an undefeated Twin Lakes team to double overtime in the tournament.
Now, on to the Big Ten where the State of Indiana has owned basketball this year. Purdue won the men’s side. I’m going to call Indiana tied for second. (Technically, Northwestern gets the tie breaker, but I refuse to credit the uncalled travel/push-off game “winner” by Buie as time expired.) The Boilermakers have a national player of the year contender in Zach Edey and a plausible chance at winning the NCAA tournament.
Despite that, IU swept Purdue. I was raised a fan of the Hoosiers, and I’m even more in the bag now that my son plays trombone in the Big Red Basketball Band. Whenever there is a broadcast, Amy & I play a game of “Find Cole.” Typically he’s in the front row toward the left side of the band. Things could still fall apart – I’ve been hurt before – but you get the sense that under Coach Woodson, the Hoosiers are moving toward a return to prominence. This season Trayce Jackson Davis established himself as an all-time Hoosier great. He has set school records for rebounds and blocks, is currently sitting in fourth all-time on the scoring list and looks very likely to grab the third spot. The Hoosiers have a team that can beat to anyone but which can also lose to pretty much anyone. So, to me – a basketball amateur who still thinks guys getting shoved around in the paint is probably a foul under the rules as they’re written and who can’t reliably predict whether the referee will call a charge or a block – the likelihood of IU stringing together three wins in the Big Ten tournament or six wins in the NCAA tournament seems remote. I’ll be delighted to be wrong. What’s great for the state, however, is having both IU and Purdue nationally ranked, playing closely contested games at Assembly Hall and Mackey Arena. We love hating each other and doing so on a massive stage is a wonderful thing.
On the women’s side, Teri Moran has built a monster of a team. They only lost two regular season games despite playing in by far the toughest conference in the nation. Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, and Michigan were all top 20 teams. They won the Big Ten outright for the first time in 40 years. The day we went down to watch a game against Purdue, the women’s team sold out Assembly Hall for the first time. We’ll lose Grace Berger next year, but the talent that should be coming back is crazy. Purdue’s women’s team isn’t quite on that level at the moment and they had to play in an insanely competitive conference. But, Katie Gearlds looks like she has great potential and Purdue’s women will be in good hands. (I make all of these predictions for a bright future hesitantly. I know from bitter experience and bright hopes past that any of these teams could spiral into mediocrity or worse.)
Between the West Lafayette boys and girls teams and the IU men’s and women’s teams, I’ve watched way more basketball season this year than in recent years. Having grown up in Richmond (Beast from the East), that’s a good thing!