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The basketball gods are smiling on the state of Indiana for the first time this season.
In a year where no Indiana team made the tournament for just the second time since the field expanded to 64 in 1985, at least we knew there would be high-level basketball played at Lucas Oil Stadium at the end of March as the NCAA Regionals were returning to Indy for a second straight year.
Not only are they returning, but two of the biggest names in the sport could be making a second straight appearance here as Duke and Louisville are seeded to return to the Sweet 16.
Then add to that mix Michigan, who faltered in Sunday’s Big Ten championship to in-state rival Michigan State. The Wolverines reached the national championship game a season ago, and feature three rotation players from the state of Indiana.
And in the same building where Butler etched their name into the history books as nearly the ultimate Cinderella, Wichita State in one sense is following that path. However, they’ll do so as a number one seed, a luxury never afforded to the Bulldogs.
That’s assuming that the Shockers don’t get upset by Kentucky. Yes, this season, a Wildcat win over the champs of the Missouri Valley would be considered, well, somewhat shocking.
If you follow the seeds, Wichita State, Michigan, Duke, and Louisville make it here. That alone gives us a rematch of last year’s Final Four (and it would be the last time Wichita State lost a game), and the 1992 national championship game.
If you go by basketball pedigrees, then make that Kentucky, Michigan, Duke, and Louisville. I know the conversation about Mt. Rushmores got old the moment LeBron James accidentally started it, but that looks like one pretty good basketball mountain-side to me.
And that completely leaves out a team like Saint Louis, who’s seeded fifth in this region. They’d have to beat Louisville to get to this point, and the Billikens have had a rather significant slide at the end of the season, losing four of their last five games including a quarterfinal exit from the Atlantic 10 tournament.
However, if they can reach Indy, then what about the story of Jim Crews and Calbert Chaney returning to the state of Indiana, and doing so carrying on the legacy of Rick Majerus. They’ll surely be welcomed at Rick’s old stomping grounds at Iaria’s if the Billikens can advance to the second weekend of the tournament.
And for those that might be a little more upset-minded, you could have Cuonzo Martin leading Tennessee to the Sweet 16, although to do so, they’d have to win three games. They’ll face Iowa in Dayton in a first round game.
While we’re thinking about Purdue ties, don’t forget about Bruce Weber and Kansas State. Those Wildcats would have to beat those other Wildcats in the second round, then knock off Wichita State in an all-Kansas affair in Saint Louis before making it to Indy. The last time Weber coached a tournament game here, he led Illinois to the national championship game, when the Illini played their first two games at the RCA Dome.
If the quality of basketball can match the quality of teams, programs, and storylines heading into Indy in 12 days, then we’ll all get to see a level of play that has been sorely lacking in this state this year.
Let the Madness begin.