IU basketball is on its way back, even to the extent of being labeled the #1 preseason team in the country according to some college basketball experts, including Andy Katz of ESPN.com.
However, I want to talk about another basketball team on the rise in recent years, a team that's been lost in the shuffle...my hometown's Indiana Pacers.
As many people are aware, until recently it had been a very rough few seasons for diehard Pacer fans like myself. Last season, the team changed coaches mid-season and managed to sneak into the playoffs, but prior to the playoff push, Bankers Life Field House looked a lot like this on game night (photo from a game I attended last season):
The playoffs would later end with a loss in five games to the Chicago Bulls. This season, though shortened by the NBA lockout, has been very promising. Frank Vogel was made the head coach after steering the team to the playoffs as the interim coach last season and the team signed free agent forward David West to help the front court. The team also traded for shooting guard Leandro Barbosa in mid-March.
The Pacers started off 17-7 with wins over the Bulls, Celtics, Mavericks, and others among the NBA's better teams. A five game losing skid and some inconsistent playing followed by a four game winning streak left the Pacers at 21-12 heading into All-Star weekend (notably, Pacer center Roy Hibbert played in his first All-Star game and Paul George participated in the slam dunk contest). As I write, the Pacers sit at 36-22, good enough for second in the Central Division behind the Chicago Bulls and third in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Bulls and the much-advertised Miami Heat. They have also added the Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder to their list of top NBA teams that they've beaten this season.
As the playoffs approach later this month, I can't help but be excited about the future of the Pacers. They are a young team with a bright future, much like IU. The future looks bright for my two favorite basketball teams.