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Almost Glory: the 1993 Indiana Hoosiers

Our series continues with Indiana University and the 1992-93 Indiana Hoosiers.

Indiana University Hoosiers Photo by Gary Mook/Getty Images

A plethora of choices could have been made here: the Mike Davis-led team that upset Duke on their way to the 2003 final game; the 2013 squad that featured two lottery picks but flamed out in the Sweet Sixteen; even the ‘75 team that came within one Scott May injury from possibly going undefeated two years in a row. But we went the one that maybe, could have, perhaps won it all.

Coach: Bobby Knight

Record: 31-4 (17-1 in the Big Ten)

Big Ten Regular Season Champions

Highest National Ranking: #1

Key Players/Stats:

  • F Calbert Cheaney, Senior, 22.4 PPG, 6.4 REB, 54.9 FG%
  • G Greg Graham, Senior, 16.5 PPG, 51.4 3ptFB%
  • F Alan Henderson, Sophomore, 11.1 PPG, 8.1 REB, 1.4 BLK
  • C Matt Nover, Senior, 11 PPG, 5.9 REB
  • G Damon Bailey, Junior, 10.1 PPG, 4.1 AST

A group forgotten in the dustbin of history. Overshadowed by famous conference foes. The last great Bobby Knight basketball team.

Expectations were high for the 1992-1993 Indiana Hoosiers, ranked #4 to start the season. A strong core returned (this will be a theme with Almost Glory) from a Final Four team that lost a close battle to eventual national champion Duke. They were led by Cheaney, who won National Player of the Year honors in his senior season, a slasher who shot lights out from everywhere on the court.

He was joined on the perimeter by Greg Graham, who hit 51% from downtown. The team as a whole shot 46% from 3, but they only took thirteen 3’s a game, a hilariously low number in a modern context. Matt Nover (a year away from his turn in Blue Chips) and break-out sophomore Alan Henderson bolstered a thin front court.

We’re probably still talking about this squad if not for two key factors:

1.) They played at the same time as the Fab Five. C-Webb, Jalen, Juwan, Jimmy, and Ray dominated the college basketball landscape as the most exciting, brash, talented squad to never win a title.

Indiana beat them twice by 1 point.

The Crisler Arena was rocking for the first game, as Michigan came in ranked #2 in the land. It was a back and forth affair, that featured an absurd ending: a free throw violation called on Indiana, up 1 with 14 seconds left to play, followed by a game-saving Henderson block on a Chris Webber put back.

The second game was high-scoring but slightly less dramatic, a 93-92 win at a very loud Assembly Hall that was only close due to poor foul shooting and a Michigan three at the buzzer. IU was 22-2 after that, ranked #1 in the nation, and would have been the odds-on favorite for the national title, except. . .

2.) Alan Henderson got hurt. This is one of the great injury what-ifs in college basketball, alongside Kenyon Martin, Robbie Hummel, and Indiana’s own Scott May. Henderson, in his career as a Hoosier, ranks #7 all-time in points, #1 in rebounds, while averaging almost 2 blocks and 1 steal a game for four years straight. Late in the ‘93 season, he injured his knee in practice, missed 5 games, and only nominally came back for the tournament, where he barely played and scored a total of 4 points in 4 games.

In the Midwest Regional Final the even-thinner front court ran into Kansas, with 6’10” Eric Pauley and 7’2” Greg Ostertag. Graham and Cheaney were remarkable (23 and 22 points respectively) but the Jayhawks forced a plethora of turnovers, blocked somewhere between 1 and 2 million shots, and their balance proved too much to overcome. The Hoosiers couldn’t make enough shots when it counted.

That was the last time Indiana came close to the Final Four with Bobby Knight as a head coach. Calbert Cheaney went on to be one of the worst 3-point shooters in the NBA, making less than 30% of his shots over an unremarkable career. Alan Henderson averaged almost 24 points a game his senior season. Matt Nover never starred in another movie ever again.

Indiana’s been back to the Final Four once — the improbable 2002 run with Mike Davis at the helm. Tom Crean’s got them back into national prominence, but they’ve yet to make it past the Sweet Sixteen in his 8 seasons. It’s only a matter of time. With Thomas Bryant back, maybe this is the year they return to the Final Four.