Benner/Sports and Sports Business

BENNER: Taking stock of memorable sports moments of 2011

December 24, 2011

A look back at the great, the good, the bad, the ugly and the worst of our year in sports.

The great: Butler University’s run to a second straight NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament championship game at Houston, which was far more improbable than the one the year before that ended in Lucas Oil Stadium.

The ugly: the Bulldogs’ shooting (12 of 64, 0.188) in the championship game against the University of Connecticut.

The great: For the second year in a row, Butler’s Matt Howard is recognized as the top student-athlete in Division I basketball.

The great: That dramatic final-turn crash by rookie J.R. Hildebrand that allows Dan Wheldon—driving in a one-off car owned by Sam Schmidt—to capture his second Indianapolis 500 on its 100th anniversary.

The absolute worst: Wheldon’s tragic death in the season-ending race at Las Vegas.

The great: The Columbus Comet, Tony Stewart, wins his third NASCAR championship.

The good: Long-shot Paul Menard, who had been coming to the Speedway with his car-owner father since he was a child, wins the Brickyard 400. It is his first NASCAR victory.

The bad: Brickyard attendance continues to decline.

The good: The Indiana Pacers make the playoffs for the first time in five years and take the heavily favored Chicago Bulls to the wire before bowing out in the first round.

The bad: The Pacers finish dead last in attendance in the NBA.

The good: the Pacers’ off-season acquisition of hometown star George Hill

The bad: The Pacers are ensnared by the NBA lockout and lose eight home dates.

The ugly: Kevin Wilson’s first Indiana University football team goes 1-11 and does not defeat another Football Bowl Subdivision team.

The bad: Columbus East High School quarterback Gunner Kiel pulls out of his commitment to play football for the Hoosiers.

The good: Danny Hope leads Purdue to a 6-6 record and a berth in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

The bad (at least according to some Boilermaker faithful): By doing so, Hope most likely saved his job.

The good: Notre Dame football is expected to challenge for a BCS bowl.

The bad: Notre Dame loses to South Florida in its season-opener.

The good: After falling to 0-2 with a loss to Michigan, Irish come back to finish 8-4 and end up in the Citrus Bowl.

The bad: The Indiana University men’s basketball team ends Tom Crean’s third season with nine straight losses and a 12-20 record.

The great: Christian Watford’s last-second three-pointer gives Crean’s unbeaten Hoosiers a 73-72 win over No. 1-ranked rival Kentucky and signals the program’s return to national relevance.

The good: Purdue spends most of the season in the top 10 despite (the bad of) losing star Robbie Hummel to another knee injury.

The good: Hummel rehabs a second time and returns to the Boilermakers in the fall to begin his final season.

The good: In January, injury-riddled Indianapolis Colts pull together to make first round of playoffs and host New York Jets.

The bad: Aided by an inexplicable timeout called by Colts Coach Jim Caldwell, the Colts lose to the Jets.

The bad: Peyton Manning has a third neck surgery and misses the entire season.

The ugly: The Colts go 0-13 before beating Tennessee to escape NFL ignominy.

The bad: The victory raises the possibility of losing the No. 1 overall draft choice.

The great: Crowds flood downtown as Indianapolis hosts the first-ever Big Ten Championship football game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and Wisconsin wins an Instant Classic, 42-39.

The great: Sellout crowd of more than 19,000 comes to Conseco Fieldhouse to watch Indiana beat Notre Dame and Butler upset Purdue in the Crossroads Classic, a renewal of the old Hoosier Classic.

The good: Indiana State University makes the NCAA tournament after winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament as a No. 3 seed. It’s the Sycamores’ first NCAA appearance in 10 years.

The good: The city of Evansville opens a new arena, the Ford Center, and University of Evansville Aces christen the building with an overtime win over Butler.

The great: Marian University, in just its fourth season of football, completes an unbeaten regular season and advances to semifinals of the NAIA national playoffs. The Knights finish 12-1.

The great: Carmel High School’s girls swimming team wins a 25th straight Indiana championship and is proclaimed national champion by Swimming World magazine.

The good: A state legislator proposes a bill that would eliminate Indiana’s multi-class high school basketball tournament.

The bad: Quick, name 2011’s four state champions. Didn’t think so.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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