Hickey: Win over No. 1 Purdue another step in Mike Woodson's Indiana restoration
The last 2 coaches to accomplish anything of note at Indiana had this moment, and now Mike Woodson has his.
Saturday’s 79-74 win over No. 1 Purdue didn’t require the same level of heroics as Indiana’s most memorable wins over the nation’s top-ranked team at Assembly Hall. But that’s all the better. Beating No. 1 without needing anyone to reprise the role of Kirk Haston or Christian Watford sends the statement that this is no fluke.
Like Tom Crean and Mike Davis before him, Woodson now has a win over the nation’s top-ranked team. That’s an important step in the process of turning Indiana basketball into Indiana basketball again.
Davis and Crean didn’t get all the way to the promised land, but both provided reminders of what the Hoosiers are supposed to be.
They won the Big Ten. They got to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. And they beat the nation’s No. 1 team when it came to Assembly Hall — Davis against Michigan State in 2001, and Crean against Kentucky in 2011 and Michigan in 2013.
Now that he’s matched his predecessors in taking down No. 1, bigger goals await for Woodson.
But one cannot achieve big goals without first tending to the basics. And in 2 years on the sideline, Woodson is tending to the most basic tenet of Indiana basketball: beating Purdue.
Mike Woodson: The cure to the Purdue problem
When Woodson was hired to coach his alma mater, it was mired in a 9-game losing streak to its archrival. It was Indiana’s longest losing streak to Purdue since a stretch from 1929-35.
Any time a stat reaches back into the Roosevelt Administration, whether Teddy or Franklin, things aren’t going well for your program.
But for the second straight year, the Boilermakers were rattled by the atmosphere at Assembly Hall. Indiana forced 16 Purdue turnovers. Only Bob Huggins’ West Virginia defense has turned the Boilers over more, and that was back in the second week of the season.
That’s the difference that Woodson makes. Not just with defensive intensity, but getting the job done against Purdue in particular.
Near the end of Crean’s tenure and for the duration of Archie Miller’s, Indiana fans showed up hoping their team could beat Purdue. Crowds may have been loud, but never to the point where the Boilers didn’t think they could shut them up quickly.
The past 2 seasons, it was clear those fans instead truly believed they would beat the Boilermakers. That’s when a crowd becomes a true Sixth Man. And if Woodson keeps it up, that attitude threatens to turn into an expectation.
From the moment Bob Knight was fired in 2000, much of Indiana’s fanbase was obsessed with finding a coach with a connection to Knight. It wasn’t until Woodson arrived that they got it.
But I’d posit that Woodson brings something perhaps even more valuable than his tutelage from Knight. He understands the importance of beating Purdue.
Woodson no doubt understood the weight of the rivalry coming of age in 1970s Indianapolis. Beyond that, he played in perhaps the 2 most significant games in the rivalry’s history. Indiana beat Purdue in the 1979 NIT championship game in the final year that tournament was littered with NCAA-worthy teams, and the Boilers ended Woodson’s Indiana career in the 1980 Sweet 16.
No amount of coaching acumen can replace being there. You can only know how much more it means to beat Purdue if you’ve done it. And maybe even more importantly, when your playing career ends because you didn’t.
Again, this is just a start for the Hoosiers. Plenty of unfinished business remains. Such as winning a game at Mackey Arena, which hasn’t happened since 2013.
That’s going to be tough.
The Boilers are unlikely to be this sloppy with the ball twice, especially at home. Saturday’s loss was likely just a speed bump on Purdue’s path to a probable regular-season Big Ten title.
But beating the top-ranked Boilers is a sign that Indiana is capable of achieving other long-term goals. As Jalen Hood-Schifino improves each game, the Hoosiers are going to be in very good shape at point guard when Xavier Johnson returns from injury.
Indiana won’t live up to its billing as the preseason B1G favorite, but it might do so at the Big Ten Tournament. Perhaps for a couple weeks beyond that, too.
Those are big goals. But for Woodson and the Hoosiers, the big goals are the next in line.