The month of November was not a pleasant one in Bloomington, Ind., a town where the local weather is determined in part by the prevailing mood of the big guy in the red sweater. And Robert Montgomery Knight was not a happy camper in November. His Hoosiers lost to Utah, Tulane and Notre Dame, leading to Indiana's worst start (1-3) since the 1976-77 season. His backcourt was shaky, to say the least, but worse was the soft and uneven play of an experienced frontcourt. There were whispers that Knight was playing his courtwise but cement-footed son, Patrick, too much, and then, to top things off, freshman guard Michael Hermon, perhaps Knight's most controversial recruit ever, went AWOL at the end of the month.
The situation improved a bit on Dec. 7 when the Hoosiers played inspiringly, if erratically, in a 73-70 loss to No. 7-ranked Kentucky, and there followed two predictable victories (over Morehead State and Miami of Ohio) in the annual slaughter of the lambs known as the Indiana Classic. But all in all, there was nothing in the wind to foretell what happened last Saturday in that red and raucous visiting-team boneyard known as Assembly Hall.
"It just goes to show you," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, after Indiana had dismantled his theretofore undefeated Jayhawks by the not-even-that-close score of 80-61, "that you never, ever stage a premature burial for a Bob Knight team."
The thoroughness of the defeat was stunning, even considering the fact that the Hoosiers have now won 47 straight home games, the longest such streak in the nation. No, Indiana is not nearly that good, and Kansas, which owns impressive wins over Massachusetts and Florida, is not nearly that bad. But the game was nonetheless a telling one for both clubs. The Hoosiers appear to have overcome most of their early problems and will certainly be a factor in the Big Ten—and possibly in the national picture. And the fear, expressed separately before the game by both Williams and point guard Jacque Vaughn, that the Jayhawks sometimes lack team intensity, was borne out. "Indiana just wanted that game more than we did," said Kansas guard Jerod Haase. "Every single possession, every single minute. It was a big, big lesson for us."
It was not as if the Hoosiers did anything out of character, either. Two days before the game Williams sat in his office in Allen Fieldhouse and sketched out the Indiana strategy: Offensively, the Hoosiers would set two, three, even four picks on every possession, bouncing around like molecules under heat until they created an open shot in Knight's motion offense. Defensively, they would deny the entry pass to Kansas's big men with double teams and dare the Jayhawks' weakest outside shooters to fire away. Assembly Hall is not a place, after all, where shaky marksmen suddenly develop a touch.
Alas for Kansas, things went exactly as Williams had predicted. Thanks to a game plan flawlessly constructed by Indiana assistant Dan Dakich, the Hoosiers were unerring in deciding which Jayhawks to challenge and which to allow the open shot. At one point in the second half, Kansas forward B.J. Williams had the ball at the top of the key while his defender, Brian Evans, stood 10 to 12 feet away from him, fronting the Jayhawks' 7'2", 270-pound center, Greg Ostertag. Finally, Williams let fly...with a brick.
"Who knows how many hours Dakich spent watching film," said Evans after the game. (Can you imagine an Indiana player referring to the head coach as "Knight?") "By the time he finished with us, we could've run Kansas's offense."
Certainly they could've run it better than Vaughn did on Saturday. A savvy sophomore with a grade-point average (3.77 as a prelaw major) as gaudy as his assist average (9.0 through Sunday), Vaughn seemed to be just the man to find a weakness or two in the Hoosier defense. But he made only two of eight shots, had four turnovers to go with his eight assists and was not a factor in the game. Stranger still, the usually analytical Vaughn had no explanation for his and his team's failure. "We just got beat," he said.
Well, Vaughn's nightmare had a lot to do with Indiana freshman Neil Reed, an Arkansas native whose red hair appears to have been styled by a threshing machine. Never mind his modest numbers on Saturday (14 points and three assists)—the Hoosier offense simply doesn't run right without Reed.
His path to Knight's doorstep sounds like something out of, well, Hoosiers. About 10 years ago Neil's father, Terry, then a high school basketball coach in Louisiana, made a pilgrimage to Bloomington, hoping, as many whistle-blowing supplicants do, to catch a Knight practice session. In Assembly Hall he met a Knight assistant, Ron Felling, who took him to lunch. Felling was impressed with Reed's enthusiasm and knowledge of the game and became his mentor. When the coaching job at Lawrenceville (Ill.) High (where Felling had worked) opened up, he helped Reed get it. When the eager coach came north, he brought his young gym rat of a son, Neil, with him.