Collector’s note: I have always been obsessed with the older large versions of Indiana basketball team photos. I can vaguely remember the larger hand-tinted versions (usually around 54″x 36″ or larger) hanging in Assembly Hall and in some local Bloomington businesses. Older versions were also known to be hanging in both the Old Fieldhouse (now Wildermuth) and Gladstein Fieldhouse.
Indiana University would also produce similar hand-tinted versions for other sports including football, baseball, swimming, and track and field. A number of these I have come across in recent years were heavily water damaged. This variation, complete in its original frame and under the original glass, displays beautifully still to this day.
Perhaps no other team in Indiana University basketball history began a season so poorly, yet wound up ending the season with so much success, as the 1957-58 Indiana Hoosiers did.
I know many Hoosier fans may bring up the 7-5 record of the 1980-81 team that would eventually claim the NCAA Championship, and that’s a fair point. However, how many Indiana teams can you recall losing six of their first seven games and still going on to win a Big Ten title?
Entering the 1957-58 campaign, the Hoosiers were defending Big Ten Conference champions. The 1956-57 squad would finish 14-8 overall, and 10-4 in conference play. Junior big man Archie Dees, a native of Mount Carmel, Illinois, led the way for the Hoosiers with a blistering 25.0 ppg and 14.4 rpg, earning the honor of Big Ten MVP.
Major contributors including Hallie Bryant (11.1 ppg), Dick Neal (12.5 ppg), and Charlie Hodson (8.8 ppg) would be graduating in the spring of 1957, and many wondered who would step up to assist Archie Dees in his senior year as IU hoped to win back-to-back conference championships for the first time since 1953 and 1954.
Indiana would drop its season opener to Ohio University, 76-68. It would be the first season opening loss for Indiana since the 1929-30 season, when Branch McCracken was a senior for the Hoosier squad. Things would not get much better over the next two games as Indiana would fall to the likes of Kansas State and Missouri. The only bright spot from the Missouri game was a 30-point performance from Dees.
The Hoosiers would finally get in the win column with a 79-66 victory over the St. Mary’s Gaels. Another loss, to Oregon State, would leave Indiana 1-4 heading into matchups against in-state foes Butler and Notre Dame.
Indiana had participated in the Hoosier Classic since 1947, and following a six-year absence, the tournament would resume in Indianapolis. Indiana, who had dominated Butler and Notre Dame in the past, found themselves unable to compete and fell to Butler 84-78 on December 27th, then would lose to Notre Dame the following day, 89-74.
Once again, the only positive for the Hoosiers was the play of Archie Dees, who would score 62 points over the course of the Classic.
Indiana would enter conference play with major concerns, sitting at 1-6. Most sports writers and conference coaches felt Indiana had little chance of defending its conference title.
Head Coach Branch McCracken felt that Indiana’s front court had been strong, as senior Pete Obremsky, a Lebanon, Indiana native, and Jerry Thompson out of South Bend, helped compliment the play of Archie Dees. The backcourt, however, was where the question marks remained. Hallie Bryant had been the catalyst of the guard position a season prior, but his graduation had left a major hole that had yet to be filled. Sam Gee, the senior guard from Washington, Indiana, who only a year prior had played very limited minutes, emerged as the go-to man to be the leader on the floor for McCracken’s Hurryin’ Hoosiers.
Hoping to get conference play off to a positive start, Indiana would host the Northwestern Wildcats on January 4th at the IU Fieldhouse and would emerge victorious, 68-65. The win streak would not continue, however, as Indiana would fall to Purdue in West Lafayette, 68-66, despite 38 points from Archie Dees. The Hoosiers would begin to find a groove as they would go 3-1 over their next four games with victories over Illinois, Minnesota, and non-conference foe DePaul.
Dees, who had blossomed as Indiana’s next great big man following Don Schlundt (1951-1955) during his junior season of 1956-57, had continued to show his dominant conference play both as a scoring threat and also as someone who would crash the boards. Branch McCracken knew that any conference success depended on Dees being as dominant as possible game in and game out.
Following another loss at Minnesota, Indiana stood 3-3 in conference play. Victories over Michigan State on February 8th and Wisconsin February 10th in Madison would bring Indiana to 5-3 and now tied for first in the Big Ten standings.
With only six games remaining in the regular season, the Hoosiers knew that finishing off the season with a high note meant a shot at an unprecedented conference title. Given how the season began, this would be an unbelievable turnaround.
Indiana would play back-to-back games against Ohio State, the first in Bloomington. The Hoosiers would split the series with the Buckeyes, losing at home (93-83), but bouncing back in Columbus 88-83. Dees would continue his dominant play with a double-double (33 points and 19 rebounds).
Indiana would take care of business over its next three games defeating Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois. Indiana stood 9-4 overall in conference play, tied with Michigan State. It just so happened that Indiana would have to travel to Lansing to face the Spartans to close out the conference season. In a grudge match from start to finish, Indiana was able to hold off several late charges by MSU to prevail, 75-72.
The Hoosiers had won a second straight conference title and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The post-season would be a short one for Indiana as a loss to Notre Dame, 94-87, would end their season.
Despite the early exit in the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten title may have been the most impressive in Indiana history given the tumultuous start to the season.
Archie Dees had remained the most dominant player in the Big Ten, and led Indiana in both scoring and rebounding at 25.5 ppg and 14.4 rpg. Dees had also led the conference in scoring, and would become the first Big Ten player and first Hoosier to win back-to-back conference MVP awards. Additionally, Dees would earn All-American honors, including being selected to the 1958 NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association) All-American First Team. Dees’s company on that First Team may have been one of the most impressive groups in history: Wilt Chamberlin (Kansas), Elgin Baylor (Seattle), and Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati).