My Two Cents: 1980 Group Might Be Indiana's Most Forgotten Great Team

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Those five banners that hang proudly in Assembly Hall are a symbol of some of the greatest basketball teams in Indiana history, There's legend and lore there, and lots of it. 

Those early champions led by Branch McCracken in 1940 and 1953 are great, as are the '81 and '87 titles under Bob Knight, with fearless leaders Isiah Thomas (1981) and Steve Alford (1987) willing teams to championships. And the greatest team of all, the unbeaten 1976 team, sets the standard for greatness, and still does.

There have been other great teams at Indiana, some that have come close to winning titles, and some that should have. I wrote a book that focused on some of those teams with the late great Terry Hutchens, my former colleague at the Indianapolis Star. The book, called "Missing Banners,'' relived the 1975, 1993, 2002 and 2013 seasons, plus one more.

The 1980 Indiana Hoosiers.

Terry and I had a lot of debate about the fifth team to spotlight — we were tied to five, of course, because of the five current banners — and the other four were no-brainers. We know all of that from rote. 

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Some quality PhotoShop work turned this into our cover photo for the book "Missing Banners.'' The 1980 team, which opened the season ranked No. 1, will be honored on Saturday at Assembly Hall.

The '75 team was unbeaten before losing to Kentucky and would have won it all if Scott May hadn't broken his arm. The '93 team blew through the Big Ten when the league might have been at its absolute greatest but lost to a great Kansas team while Alan Henderson dealt with a knee injury. (We talk a lot about 1992, too. Teddy Freakin' Valentine.) 

The 2002 group played for the national title against Maryland and the 2013 team was ranked No. 1 in the country with Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and others. 

The 1980 team often gets overlooked because many of those same guys won a title the following year. They got their title, those guys.

But a few didn't, most notably Mike Woodson, who is still in my book the smoothest scorer in Indiana history. He was a right-handed Calbert Cheaney before Calbert Cheaney and he couldn't be stopped on most nights.

The one other reason they made the list? Well, I had the final say, and my diploma says Indiana University, Class of 1980.

Yep, those were my guys and that was my team. I covered that group for two-plus seasons, and it was an amazing time. It's hard to believe that was 40 years ago already.

That group is going to be honored at Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall at halftime of Indiana's game with Purdue on Saturday. And it's wonderful for them to get that recognition.

They were Big Ten champions that year, and they did it in the most difficult way possible. Sure, I'm biased, but this was the most meaningful conference championship in school history.

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The Hoosiers had been preseason No. 1 and were favored to win it all because of seniors Mike Woodson and Butch Carter, junior center Ray Tolbert and a flashy, vibrant freshman point guard named Isiah Thomas, who chose Indiana in one of the craziest recruiting cat fights of all time.

But then the injury bug hit. Woodson hurt his back and needed December surgery, which was substantial. There was a fear he'd be lost for the season. And then Randy Wittman, a great player in his own right, hurt his foot and he was gone, too.

Indiana was in trouble in the league race without Woodson. At one time, they were just 7-5 in the league and 14-7 overall. But then Woodson came back and the Hoosiers reeled off six straight conference wins, including beating four of the teams tied with them or ahead of them in the standings.

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Indiana's Mike Woodson was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1980 despite playing only six games after major back surgery. (Photos courtesy of IU Archives).

Woodson was incredible down the stretch. It was a different time, of course, where seniors stayed around in school for four years. Woodson knew this was his final go-round, and he roared back with a vengeance. That winning streak to close it all? That was all him, although Thomas, with practically a full season under his belt by then, was great, too. They beat No. 9-ranked Ohio State on the final day of the season in Assembly Hall to win the league crown.

Woodson accomplished something that will NEVER be repeated by anyone. He was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1980 — and he only played SIX GAMES.

Why this team lives with a touch of anonymity, of course, is because of what happened in the postseason. 

Indiana had a bye in the first round — this was before the current 64-plus fields — and beat Virginia Tech in the second round.

It set up an NCAA Regional for the ages in, of all places, Lexington, Kentucky. You were allowed to play on your home courts back then, and that Kentucky team was loaded. So was Indiana by then, too.

The semifinals were set. It was Indiana vs. Purdue in one game, and Duke vs. Kentucky in the other. Everyone expected an Indiana-Kentucky final, and tickets for the games at Rupp Arena were selling in the thousands of dollars.

Indiana and Purdue had split during the regular season, and the Boilermakers, led by 7-foot center Joe Barry Carroll, were pretty darn good themselves under coach Lee Rose. Still, it  seemed like nothing more than a coronation for that Hoosiers-Wildcats rematch.

It never happened. Twice. Purdue got an early lead and kept it. The Hoosiers made runs throughout the game, but the Boilermakers always had an answer and finally won 76-69. It was a shocking end to a dream season that had been so much fun during Woodson's return.

The Kentucky fans at Rupp, who were cheering hard for Purdue, of course, because that was the first game, then got their hearts ripped out when Duke upset them. The weekend game between Duke and Purdue was playing in a half-empty arena.

The agony of 1980 was soothed by winning the title in 1981 for all but Woodson and Carter. Woodson, one of the best guys you'll ever meet, was thrilled for his pals in 1981. They will always be national champions.

And Woodson and Carter could have been. 

Frankly, should have been.

It will be great to see many of them back in town on Saturday. For you younger readers, it's a team you may not know much about. But you should.

Shameless plug: Below is the link to the book "Missing Banners'' on Amazon. And if you'd rather have an autographed copy, just email me at tombrew@hilltop30.com and I'll get one to you. Even though it's four years old, it's still in some Indiana bookstores, too, including the Varsity Shop at Assembly Hall. It's my best-selling basketball book of all-time, and it's loaded with great interviews from days gone by.

What to know about the 1980 Indiana Hoosiers

1980 Big Ten Champions Will Be Honored At Halftime of Purdue Game

  • Indiana was picked No. 1 in the preseason by Sports Illustrated.
  • The Hoosiers finished 20-7 in the regular season, but won their last six league games to claim the title.
  • Mike Woodson won the Big Ten Player of the Year award despite only playing six games in the conference season, all wins.
  • Most of that team was part of the 1979 NIT Championship team the year before.
  • All but Woodson and fellow senior Butch Carter were on the 1981 NCAA championship team.
  • The team had 6 members of the IU Athletics Hall of Fame, Mike Woodson, Isiah Thomas, Ted Kitchel, Randy Wittman, Ray Tolbert and Landon Turner.
  • The '80 club had 12 NBA draft picks, 3 Big Ten MVP’s, and 5 All-Americans.
  • Isiah Thomas also was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.
  • The team was coached by Bob Knight, with assistants Gerry Gimelstob, Tom Miller, Jim Crews and Jene Davis.
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Steve Risley (left) and Mike Woodson celebrate winning the Big Ten championship after beating No. 9-ranked Ohio State on the final day of the regular season.

How to order your copy of 'Missing Banners'

  • STORES: The book, written by Tom Brew and the late Terry Hutchens, was published in 2016, and is a timeless class and is still available at most Indiana bookstores, including the Varsity Shop at Assembly Hall. 
  • ONLINE: It is available on Amazon. com and bn.com. Just click on those links to take you there and order.
  • AUTOGRAPHED COPY: If you would like an autographed copy, email Tom Brew at tombrew@hilltop30.com or reach out on Twitter @tombrewsports
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The cover of the best-selling Indiana basketball book "Missing Banners.''
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