We don't have to like it, but the facts cannot be ignored.
Indiana isn't a basketball state anymore.
Until the past week, I was losing hope that it ever could be again. In fact, in my forthcoming book Blue Blood, I think I make a pretty good case for how the Colts have usurped hoops as the top dog in Indiana. I'm not going to step on the book, but there's plenty of good evidence for the claim. It's certainly something that you've heard the Colts players saying in recent months.
For all the misty eyed stories about Hoosiers and hardwood, the simple truth is that when the IHSAA killed our tournament after the 1997 season, they cut out the heart of Indiana basketball. Basketball on every level of the state has shown serious regression in recent years, but you can trace it all back to that fateful and utterly indefensible act of vandalism to the La Boheme of basketball. (Hey! Know what will be great? Let's give it a new ending with less tragedy and more winners! No need for the little guys to suffer. Everyone will love it! We'll call it multi-class opera. What? No one wants to see it? Oh well, at least the actors are happier!).
News that 30,000 showed up to watch Butler practice gives me hope. Maybe the Hoosier state is still a sleeping giant when it comes to hoops. Maybe the kind of passion that filled the Hoosier Dome for high school players, lifted the Pacers to new heights and put at least four Indiana schools in the NCAA Tournament ten times in 18 years can be rekindled. Butler could do it, if only...
The low point of ignominy was 2005. Not only did we endure the last season of Reggie Miller and the aftermath of the brawl, but no Indiana school made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1972. Since then, Purdue finally found their footing and is back to being basically as good as they ever were. Notre Dame is more or less back as well. Indiana is still recovering from their ill advised deal with the devil, but the real heartbeat of Indiana basketball still has not returned. The innumerable mid-majors for which all Hoosiers root have fallen on hard times.
Ball State? State of disrepair. Valpo? Alpo. Evansville? Nowheresville. ISU? MIA. IUPUI? IOU. I don't know if it's cyclical or if there just isn't enough homegrown talent to go around any more, but we are a long way from sending six teams back to the tournament like we did in 2000.
Ah, but Butler...Butler has taken up the mantle as the standard bearer of true Indiana basketball for all of us. They play "The Butler Way", that is to say, the way the game is supposed to be played. The Bulldogs have a chance to spark a true renaissance of basketball passion this weekend. Tonight, they have the chance to transform The Luke into a real landmark in Indiana. Lucas Oil Stadium has yet to earn its chops as a part of the fabric of the city. It looks the part, and the Colts have certainly done their part to break it in, but it's Butler that could make the building hallowed ground if only...
Butler is trying to give us all heart transplant. It's not a new heart, though. They are trying to undue the damage caused by meddling middle managers who ripped the ticker out of our collective chest back in '97, replacing it with an artificial heart incapable of pumping the life blood of Indiana to all the extremities of the state. We survived, finding our solace instead in football, but it's been like something was wrong, dead, broken about being a sports fan but not being able to care about basketball.
A decade of decay, betrayl and defeat for all Hoosiers can be reversed. History can get a major rewrite. Butler can do it. Maybe they already have.
Butler can do it.