The results, whether positive or negative, from conference tournament play for teams that know they’re going to the NCAA tournament tend to be swept away quickly. That’s doubly true when you’re happy with your seeding, even if not your overall location.
Yes, it wasn’t the perfect path that Indiana fans had hoped for all season long. I’m sure the secondary ticket market has been flooded since 6p Sunday night with Hoosier fans dumping their Lucas Oil seats and looking at airfare prices for Washington, DC. Perhaps Indiana fans could just drive down I-65 and set up shop across the river, I’m sure they’d find plenty of takers there.
However, you can’t blame Hoosier Nation for smiling seeing the crop of talent that could be headed towards downtown Indy two weeks from now. Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, and Saint Louis would descend upon downtown if form holds. There might be plenty of tickets available now, but that likely won’t last for long.
Louisville not only vaulted past Indiana for the top spot in the Midwest, they passed every other team in the dance to earn the overall top seed. The Cards accomplished that by winning their final 10 games after losing that five-overtime thriller in South Bend. During that run of success, they haven’t allowed more than 61 points in a game.
Duke seemed set to be a number one seed before falling to Maryland in the ACC quarters. With Ryan Kelly’s return to the lineup, the Blue Devils seem all that more formidable.
No one needs to explain how good Michigan State can be this time of year. There have been six Final Four visits in the last 14 seasons under Tom Izzo, and Indy has been very good to Sparty. Their lone national title during that run happened here in 2000, not to mention winning the last regional played here in 2009. And they beat Louisville in the final. Heck, they even won the 1979 regional played at Market Square, when some guy named Magic was MSU’s best player.
Last but not least comes Saint Louis, who has been every bit as stingy on defense as Louisville. The Billikens have lost once in the last two months, and they are in the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense. That number shrinks to ninth best defensively of the 68 teams in the field.
So Indiana missing that bunch is worth the extra mileage to our nation’s capitol. There’s no such thing as an easy path in the NCAA tournament, but the teams the Hoosiers will face don’t exactly fit the blueprint of squads that have given them fits.
You would expect little to no struggle against whomever wins the 16-seed play-in game. Potential third-round opponents Temple and NC State are both talented teams, but seem to pay more attention on the offensive end of the floor. Possible Sweet 16 foe Syracuse has been a hot mess in the final few weeks until the Big East tournament, and then reverted back to form with ditching a second half lead against Louisville. Even if the Orange are playing at their peak, Indiana has the right personnel to attack any zone, even one as good the one employed by Jim Boeheim’s team.
And if seeding were to hold, the Hoosiers would face Miami. The Hurricanes are a very good team, but it’s also a program that has little to no postseason experience. That doesn’t apply to head coach Jim Larranaga, famous for leading George Mason to the Final Four in Indy in 2006. However, the Hurricanes have never made it past the Sweet 16. And that was 13 years ago.
The path of least resistance takes Indiana 629 miles away from campus, as compared to the 53-mile sprint from B-town to Lucas Oil. Those extra miles are all worth it if the final destination of Atlanta is still reached.
BUTLER COULD SEE A FAMILIAR FACE
After late season losses to Saint Louis and VCU, the Bulldogs knew that their location for the upcoming NCAA tournament could be anywhere from San Jose to Philly. But they landed nearly as close to home as they could, nabbing the sixth seed in the East Region and playing their second and third round games in Lexington.
The seeding is about what was expected, and maybe a pleasant surprise to some. The Bulldogs had very few, if any, “bad losses” on the season. In fact, the graphic used in Friday’s A10 telecast in showing Butler’s tournament resume listed just one: Charlotte. Combine that with the early season loss at Xavier, and those are the only losses for the Bulldogs that occurred against teams that didn’t make the NCAA field.
In Butler’s opening game, they’ll face a program that models itself after what the Bulldogs have accomplished. Bucknell will make a fourth appearance in the NCAAs in the last nine years. In their first two trips, the Bison scored opening round wins. In 2005, they downed Kansas, then followed that with a win over Arkansas the following year.
Bucknell opened this season with a win at Purdue, then backed that up with wins over tournament teams in New Mexico State and LaSalle. They fell two points short of claiming another win over a tourney team, losing at Missouri 66-64.
Andrew Smith’s postseason experience will be tested early. He’ll square off against 6’11″ senior Mike Muscala of Bucknell, who averages 19 points and 11 rebounds per game.
If the Bulldogs can avoid an opening round defeat (which has happened just one time in the Bulldogs’ last seven trips to the tourney, against LSU in 2009), they’d likely see Marquette for a second time this season. Rotnei Clarke’s running three sparked Butler to a win in the first meeting in Maui, and truly jump-started this team’s 26-win season. Next year, the Bulldogs will play Marquette twice, as they’ll both be members of the revamped Big East.
It’s possible Butler could play three consecutive rematch games in the tournament. If they survive the opening two games, Illinois could await in the Sweet 16. Then, if form holds, it could be Indiana for a chance to get back to the Final Four.
IRISH AND VALPO STAY CLOSE TO HOME, HAVE WORK TO DO
Notre Dame earned a seven seed, and a short road trip to Dayton for Friday night’s showdown with Iowa State. If the Irish can down Fred Hoiberg’s team, they’d play a virtual road game against Ohio State. The Irish are looking for their first Sweet 16 appearance in ten years.
Valpo is back in the dance for the first time in nine years after winning the Horizon League. They make the short trip to Auburn Hills to face Michigan State for the second time in their NCAA tournament history. The Spartans began their 2000 championship run by beating the Crusaders 65-38.
THREE OTHER IN-STATE SQUADS ARE STILL PLAYING, JUST NOT IN THE BIG DANCE
Purdue will play at least one more game in Mackey Arena this season, as they’ll host Western Illinois in an opening round game of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) on Wednesday. Purdue enters the tournament at 15-17, one of two under .500 teams in the event. Texas (16-17) is the other.
Indiana State will play in the NIT for the first time in 35 years, and will get a prime-time slot. They’ll face Iowa Wednesday at 7p in a game televised on ESPN2. It’s a homecoming for head coach Greg Lansing, a former Hawkeye assistant.
Evansville will play in the postseason for the fourth time in five years, as they host Tennessee State in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT). This event for mid and low-majors only is in its fifth season, and it’s the second time the Purple Aces have played in this event. Senior Colt Ryan enters the game 55 points shy of passing Larry Humes as the all-time leading scorer in UE basketball history.