Collector’s note: The 1976-77 season marked the first for Indiana wearing uniforms made by manufacturer Medalist Sand-Knit. Differences in the look of the jersey numbers is what is mainly noticeable from the Rawlings style that IU used from 1972-1976. It is rare that IU game jerseys of star players hit the market as many remain in private hands after major IU equipment sales from the early 2000s.
Mention the name Mike Woodson and one might think about a silky smooth scorer. Others might talk about how unfortunate it was that someone that great on the court never won an NCAA title during his time in Bloomington.
It’s true that Woodson’s career, which spanned from the 1976-77 season to the 1979-80 season, never included hanging another banner in Assembly Hall. However, one cannot overlook his monumental individual achievements as a Hoosier.
Michael Dean Woodson arrived on the IU campus in the fall of 1976. A product of Broad Ripple High School, Woodson was an Indiana All-Star his senior year. As one of six freshmen on a team that only returned one starter (Kent Benson) from the undefeated NCAA title team of 1976, Woodson probably assumed he had a good chance of making an immediate impact for Bob Knight’s Hoosiers.
Benson, along with returning key reserves Jim Wisman and Wayne Radford, would essentially be the only experience returning. There was much uncertainty going into the 1976-77 season about who would step up to fill the holes of those seniors who had graduated from the NCAA championship team (Scott May, Bobby Wilkerson, Tom Abernethy, Quinn Buckner, and Jim Crews).
One of those freshman who stepped up from day one was Mike Woodson.
In fact, Woodson would start every game but two his freshman season. In the season opener vs. South Dakota, Woodson scored 16 points to help IU roll over the Coyotes, 110-64. However, even solid play by Woodson, Benson, and Radford wasn’t enough to prevent a 1-3 start from the Hoosiers through their first four games. It was clear that the 76-77 season would be one of re-building.
IU would win its next four games, but sat 4-4 entering Big Ten conference play. What is staggering about the conference success of the seasons from 1972-1976 is that not only did Indiana not lose a single Big Ten game at Assembly Hall, but Indiana had won 36 straight conference games prior to the January 6, 1977 contest vs. Purdue. 36 straight! That stat right there is the apotheosis of dominance.
Sadly, Purdue would dominate IU en route to a 80-63 victory, ending both of the aforementioned accomplishments. IU would rebound on January 8th against Illinois at home, 80-60. Woodson led all Hoosiers in scoring with 24 points.
Over the next seven games, IU would go 4-3, as the Hoosiers struggled to stay consistent in conference play with a younger, less experienced team. During that stretch, Woodson showed signs of being more like an upper-classman rather than a freshman with scoring performances of 22 points vs Ohio State, and 27 against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
On February 3rd, Indiana narrowly lost in Ann Arbor to Michigan 89-84, the NCAA runner-up in 1976. Woodson exploded for a team-high 32 points. Woodson’s scoring ability, along with the interior presence of senior Kent Benson (it is worth pointing out that Benson was sidelined for the final four games of the season with a back injury) would still not be enough for the Hoosiers to continue any level of success in comparison to the previous season.
Over the last 10 games of the season, Indiana went 4-6, including four straight losses to the likes of Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin. Even a 34-point performance by Woodson in their final road game of the season at Iowa would not be enough to clinch victory for IU.
Indiana would finish the season 14-13 overall (two wins by Minnesota would later be vacated due to NCAA violations, so the official record stands at 16-11, 11-7 in conference play) and 9-9 in conference play. For the first time since the 1970-71 season, Indiana would not play in a post-season tournament.
Although many fans felt a huge letdown following the season, Mike Woodson’s freshman season goes down as one of the most impressive in IU history.
Woodson would average 18.5 ppg, while shooting 52.1% from the field. That scoring average would remain the highest for any IU freshman until Eric Gordon’s 20.9 ppg during the 2007-08 season. At the conclusion of his four-year Indiana career, Mike Woodson would go down as one of the most prolific scorers in history. He remains one of only five Hoosiers, along with A.J. Guyton, Don Schlundt, Steve Alford, and Calbert Cheaney, to score more than 2,000 career points (Woodson remains 5th all time in scoring with 2.061 points).
It is a shame to think that such a great player in IU history never was able to be associated with an NCAA championship. Then again, that argument can be made for countless Indiana University basketball players in history.