Everyone knows how important basketball is to the state of Indiana. It's played and watched and hotly debated in every corner of the state. The 1986 movie "Hoosiers" is about Indiana high school basketball; it's literally preserved in the Library of Congress.
The most important program in Indiana college basketball belongs to Indiana University. They may wear crimson and cream, but the Hoosiers are one of the blue bloods of college basketball. The Hoosiers have won the NCAA national championship five times. Under the helm of legendary head coach Bob Knight, the 1976 team went undefeated for the entire season, a feat that has not been accomplished since.
With such a storied history, choosing a starting lineup of IU hoopers is a herculean task. Taking into account different eras, styles and levels of success, let's pick our all-time starting five.
Point Guard: Isiah Thomas
Handling the rock for our mythical all-Hoosier team is one of the best little guys to ever play point guard: Isiah Thomas. Zeke played at IU from 1979-1981, but he absolutely made the most out of his two seasons in Bloomington.
Thomas averaged 15.1 points and 5.6 assists per game for his IU career. He was the rare type of playmaker who didn't just distribute the basketball and make his teammates better but also scored at will. At just 6-foot-1, Thomas used his quickness and agility to great effect. He had an uncanny ability to finish acrobatic layups in traffic, deftly navigating around players much taller than he. For modern basketball fans, his highlights bring to mind Allen Iverson or Kyrie Irving — little guys who could get to the rim and score at will.
Defensively, he was a menace, harassing the opposing team's ballhandlers and forcing turnovers throughout his college and pro career.
Most importantly for Indiana fans, Thomas was a winner in his time as a Hoosier. His freshman season, the Hoosiers made a run to the Sweet 16. Sensing unfinished business, Thomas led the 1980-81 team all the way to the national championship, defeating North Carolina in the title game. For his efforts, Zeke was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
Coming off the bench at point guard, we've got Quinn Buckner and Damon Bailey.
Bailey played for Indiana from 1990-1994, leading the Hoosiers to a Sweet 16, Elite 8 and a Final Four appearance. Bailey earned All-American honors in 1994 and is an Indiana high school legend.
Buckner played at IU from 1972-1976. His counting stats do not jump off the page — he averaged just 10 points and 4.5 assists per game in 120 games as a Hoosier. But Buckner was at the point for two of the most successful seasons in men's college basketball history. From 1974-1976, the Hoosiers did not lose a regular season game. After losing by just 2 points to Kentucky in the 1975 Elite Eight, Indiana knew it had unfinished business. With Buckner at the point, the 1975-76 team went undefeated in the regular season and the postseason, winning the national championship.
Shooting Guard: Steve Alford
Lacing them up in the backcourt next to Thomas, we've got Indiana legend Steve Alford.
Alford is regarded by many as the best shooting guard in Indiana history — not just Indiana University history but the state of Indiana's history. He was a star high school player at New Castle Chrysler High School, where he led his team to a state title in 1983.
From 1983-1987, Alford was a four-year starter for the Hoosiers. He was a dead-eye shooter from long range; in his senior season, he shot 53.6% from 3-point range. Alford was no slouch from the free throw line, converting on 89.8% of his attempts over his career.
If there is a clutch gene, Alford had it. Throughout his career in Bloomington, he had a proclivity for hitting big shots in big games. As a freshman, Alford famously outplayed UNC superstar Michael Jordan in the NCAA Tournament in 1984. And as a senior in 1987, he led the Hoosiers to the national championship, scoring a game-high 23 — on seven 3-pointers — in the title game against Syracuse in the Superdome in New Orleans.
Alford was a two-time All-American who graduated as the Indiana all-time leader in points and steals. Now take this into account: The 3-point line was only introduced to the college game in time for Alford's senior season. It's not unreasonable to think that if Alford had played a few years later, he might have scored another several hundred points.
Mike Woodson comes off the bench to relieve Alford. The current Hoosiers head coach had a hell of a career in Bloomington, scoring over 2,000 points in his four seasons under Knight.
Small Forward: Calbert Cheaney
Starting at the 3 is one of the best wing players in NCAA history: Calbert Cheaney. Cheaney was a big-time bucket getter for IU. From 1989-1993, the 6-foot-7 lefty averaged just under 20 points per game for Knight's Hoosiers. Cheaney was a three-time All-American, Big Ten Player of the Year twice, and his 2,613 career points are the most in Indiana history.
Cheaney's versatility helped him excel. He could shoot it from the outside, drive the ball to the hole and even get buckets in the post. Cheaney's left-handed jumper was exceedingly smooth. He also used his athleticism to find his preferred spots on the floor and create his own shot.
While Indiana did not win it all while Cheaney suited up for the Hoosiers, his teams won the Big Ten three times and appeared in the 1992 Final Four. Cheaney went on to have a long career in the NBA, and while he never rose to the heights he hit in Bloomington, he was a respected role player for a long time.
Power Forward: Scott May
Some may consider IU big man Scott May to be a small forward, but for our all-time team, we're putting the big man at the 4. May played at Indiana from 1972-1976, earning a host of accolades including 1976 Naismith Award, awarded to the best player in the country. May was actually ruled academically ineligible his freshman season, meaning he only contributed to the Hoosiers for three seasons. But the 6-foot-7 two-time All-American made the most of his chance.
May was always ready to shoot, often catching the ball on the wing or the corners and getting right into a midrange jump shot.
In May's last two seasons in Bloomington, the Hoosiers lost exactly zero regular season games. The 1974-1975 team dominated the Big Ten, winning most games in blowout fashion. Unfortunately for IU fans, May was injured late in the season and was limited to just seven minutes in the team's loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
The next season, May's senior year, IU avenged this loss. The Hoosiers went 32-0. Almost 50 years later, they are still the last team in men's college basketball history to go undefeated for an entire season. And who knows? If May hadn't gotten hurt, perhaps they would've gone undefeated for two seasons in a row!
Alan Henderson definitely deserves an honorable mention here for the power forward spot. Henderson played from 1991-1995, earning a host of plaudits and honors in his time at IU. The Hoosiers were never the last team standing in Henderson's time there, which keeps him behind May in the rotation.
Center: Walt Bellamy
Our man in the middle for the all-time Hoosiers starting five is Walt Bellamy.
The 6-foot-11 Bellamy played at IU from 1958-1961, a career that predated Knight's tenure. As the center on those Hoosier teams, Bellamy used his height and athleticism to dominate. He averaged over 20 points and 15 rebounds per game — absolutely bonkers numbers by today's standards.
Bellamy was a two-time All-American and the starting center on the 1960 gold medal-winning Olympic team. He went on to have a very impressive NBA career in which he averaged over 20 points and 13 rebounds over 14 seasons.
Kent Benson is our first center off the bench. He started on the dominant 1974-1976 teams, making him one of the winningest players in IU history.
And to give the team a little youth, let's throw in Cody Zeller off the bench. Zeller played for the Hoosiers from 2011-2013. He was a two-time All-American and led IU to the Sweet 16 in 2012.
The Hoosiers have had some up-and-down seasons since the Knight era ended in 2000. And really, the last few seasons with Knight at the helm were no picnic.
The 2001-2002 team had an unexpected trip to the national championship game behind Jared Jeffries, but they failed to reach the NCAA Tournament shortly thereafter. The scandal-ridden Kelvin Sampson years were marred by recruiting allegations, but Tom Crean eventually found success with Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
The Woodson era is off to a promising start, as last year the Hoosiers made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. Trayce Jackson-Davis has had a wonderful career in Bloomington. If IU is able to make a deep run in March, maybe he'll end up on a future version of this list!
MORE: The 10 Best College Basketball Championship Teams, Ranked
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