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Indiana’s solace: this is just the start of this program’s turnaround

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Indiana  v Kentucky

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 23: Head coach Tom Crean of the Indiana Hoosiers reacts in the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats during the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball South Regional Semifinal game at the Georgia Dome on March 23, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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For the first time in what must feel like a lifetime for Indiana fans, their season not only ended in late March, but it ends with a certain degree of uncertainty.

The Hoosier faithful now get to play the dreaded waiting game: who is staying and who is going?

And while it will surely be a tense two weeks waiting to learn whether or not the future of Cody Zeller and Christian Watford holds another year of higher learning, it’s the good kind of tension. It’s the kind of tension that lets them know that their team is back. That their team is relevant enough that the NBA has an interest in the happenings in Bloomington.

Let’s assume, for a second, that both Watford and Zeller return next season. That means that they’ll be joined by essentially every important piece that took part in the NCAA tournament -- Jordy Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Matt Roth, Will Sheehy, Remy Abell -- as well as a good, five-man recruiting class that is headlined by three players ranked in the top 100 nationally.

In other words, Indiana is going to be even better next season, and with Watford and Zeller in the mix, they’ll likely be a serious Final Four contender. Remember, IU wasn’t even supposed to be good this year. Back in November, the consensus was that the Hoosiers were still one year away. We thought it meant one year away from relevancy. Turns out it meant one year away from being labeled a favorite.

I’d go as far as to say that, for IU fans, this was one of the most enjoyable seasons they’ve had in a long, long time. Rooting for the underdog is always fun. Seeing the underdog win -- especially when it’s your team -- is more fun. Throughout the year, Indiana was perpetually the underdog and they still managed to put together one heckuva bounce-back season.

They beat rival Kentucky in one of the most thrilling games of the season. They beat Michigan State and Ohio State. And while they couldn’t make it past the Sweet 16 this year, they played as well as they have all season long against a Kentucky team that simply was not going to get beaten.

The foundation for the rebirth of Indiana has been set.

I hope Tom Crean enjoys pressure.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.