Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Indiana Necessity -- Beat Michigan, Save No. 1 Seed




The call came just before midnight. Hoosier Deep Throat, after a long break, needed to talk.

We met in a long forgotten basement hidden underneath what used to be called the HPER Building, and what is now called, well, whatever.

An obscure metal door (decorated by a faded black-and-white photo of a young Branch McCracken) led to a stairway that must have been old when Bob Knight was terrorizing elementary school classmates.

The basement was littered with a shattered TV, a busted radio and torn up Sports Illustrated covers of Kate Upton in Antarctica. Cigarette smell hung heavy in the air. A single light bulb swayed from either an earthquake or stomping feet.

Hoosier Deep Throat (above is one of the few known photos of him), it seemed, was ticked. We knew why.

“How could they have blown that game?” he asked from a dark shadow that revealed nothing.

“Perhaps a better question,” we said, pointing to the torn SI covers, “was how could you do that to Kate Upton?”

We heard a swallowing sound. An empty shot glass bounced our way. We smelled rock-gut whiskey. Hoosier Deep Throat was really taking this Ohio State loss hard. Or, less likely, he didn’t like our sense of humor.

“There’s no way, with an outright Big Ten title at stake, with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament at stake, you play like that!” Hoosier Deep Throat shouted. A match flared. The tip of a cigarette glowed almost as brightly as ESPN sideline reporter Sam Ponder’s diamond ring.

“Indiana got out-toughed, out-rebounded, out-hustled, out-played, out-executed, out-run, out everything!” Hoosier Deep Throat shouted. "It was out-scored 14-2 on fast-break points. That CAN'T HAPPEN!"

Another empty shot glass flew past us. It smelled like Schlitz beer, which was popular when Watergate was big news and women preferred 6 Million Dollar TV Men.

How do we know what Schlitz beer smells like and are we old enough to remember the 6 Million Dollar Man?

You ask too many questions.

“Maybe you should look at the big picture,” we said. “Indiana is 25-5. It’s been ranked No. 1 for a big chunk of the season. A win at Michigan might make it the best of the No. 1 seeds. It’s been a great year.”

Hoosier Deep Throat said nothing.

“You’re only as good as your last performance,” we added. We pride ourselves on the quality of our clich├ęs.

Hoosier Deep Throat’s glowing cigarette end shot off sparks of red and white.

"Indiana's season is like driving the length of the field in football," he said, spitting out the words like bullets. "You get to the 5-yard line, and you knock it in for a touchdown. You don't settle for a field goal or turn it over. You finish the bleeping job. You win the Big Ten outright and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney and the NCAA Tournament the right way. You don't back in because of a silly tiebreaker."

He paused. Somewhere in the basement darkness, a cricket chirped three times. 

“And then there was the net cutting deal!” He was raging now. “Are you kidding me? Whose knuckle-headed idea was that? They lost a bleeping game and a big bleeping opportunity. You wanna cut nets -- win. You wanna celebrate something -- win! Don’t do it after playing soft down the stretch. When it mattered most, Indiana had more turnovers than a bleeping bakery.”

Hoosier Deep Throat crushed out a cigarette and lit up another.

“Looks like I picked the wrong bleeping week to quit smoking,” he said. He took a deep drag.

"You know those things will kill you," we said.

"Watching another performance like Ohio State will do that first," he said.

The good news -- he was starting to calm down.

“According to Tom Crean, the net cutting was to honor the group that brought the program back from the Kelvin Sampson mess,” we said. “It was earned through a season of hard work, and school officials wanted to reward the players.”

“Reward them if they win, make them practice all night if they lose," Hoosier Deep Throat said. "That’s what Coach K did when Duke got hammered at Miami earlier this season. If you don't like it, join a knitting club.”

“We’re not even going to go there,” we said. “Look, everybody would have preferred a win, but you don’t always get what you want. Just ask the Rolling Stones.”

“Is that supposed to be bleeping funny!” Hoosier Deep Throat shouted so loud we thought his vocal cords would explode. We knew enough to shut up.

“Indiana’s been talking about winning a national championship all season,” Hoosier Deep Throat said. “It takes a special group to do that. A tough group. A group that peaks in March and the beginning of April rather than February. These guys ain’t been the same since winning at Michigan State. Maybe all the glory made them soft. Maybe they forgot where they came from.”

He stomped his cigarette to bits; lit up another.

“You know what boils my butt. It’s a two-point game with five minutes left Tuesday night, so make the plays and win the sucker. That’s what a national champion does, especially at home. They didn't come close to doing that.”

Hoosier Deep Throat began pacing, shadows swirling around him like storm clouds. So much for him calming down.

“Indiana can still win the Big Ten outright by winning at Michigan on Sunday,” we said, using the same soothing tone a dentist uses before tearing a tooth out of your jaw. “It can still earn a NCAA tourney No. 1 seed, get a close early round location, get a Sweet 16 berth in Indianapolis and wind up at the Final Four in Atlanta. It’s all there for the Hoosiers.”

Hoosier Deep Throat stopped pacing. Shadows thickened around him.

“I ain’t stupid. I know that. But that’s just talk. And there’s a bunch more talk about IU clinching the Big Ten tourney No. 1 seed if Michigan State beats Wisconsin tonight. All that does is weaken resolve. It ain’t about somebody else losing. It’s about you winning. We need to kick Michigan's bleep!"

He stomped his foot. The light bulb twirled as if caught in a tornado.

“This is head knocking time," he said. "And if the Hoosiers don’t start knocking some bleep, they’re gonna end up a No. 2 or No. 3 seed at some place that sells Schlitz by the bleeping wine glass!”

A deep, uncomfortable silence followed. It was the kind you hear when an adult admits to being a Justin Bieber fan, not that we’re admitting we know what that actually sounds like.

“Look the Big Ten is brutally tough,” we said. “Look what happened to Michigan at Penn State or Wisconsin against Purdue. The selection committee understands that. A potential 14-4 record in a conference this strong will go a long way with them. So will a 13-5 mark. And no matter what happens on Sunday or in the Big Ten tourney, IU will be VERY well prepared for any team and situation in the NCAA Tournament. All things are very much possible.”

A wine glass rolled toward us. Silence followed. Hoosier Deep Throat was gone. His message, however, was not.


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