by Kent Sterling
For the second time since the field of the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64, the state of Indiana was shut out by the selection committee, and no team even warranted discussion as a potential invitee.
That none of the 10 Division One teams calling Indiana home were good enough to be included doesn’t make March Madness any less fascinating. The members of the selection committee were nice enough to set up some great matchups that will be worth watching this weekend.
My favorite game will determine whether a mid-major upstart or the blue blood of the tournament will punch its ticket to Indianapolis for the Midwest Regional. If Kentucky can get past an overrated Kansas State team led by the nutty whiner Bruce Weber, they will almost certainly play #1 seed Wichita State.
A surging mid-major sending home the fan base who believes winning titles is a birthright would be a wonderful moment – even more amazing that watching them lose in the first round of the NIT at Robert Morris last year. It would unfortunately mean that Louisville and Kentucky would not play each other in Indianapolis during the Sweet Sixteen round in Indianapolis – an easy drive for fans of both.
If Wichita State does falter against the Big Blue Horde, watching them lose in our hometown against their most hated rival led by a cache who fled UK and is considered a traitor would be almost as good.
Louisville will likely have to find a way past the Bilikens of Saint Louis to make it to Indy, and don’t sleep on St. Louis. Yes, they faltered down the stretch, but if they regain their legs, Jim Crews’ team plays a smothering defense.
I love the opening round 5/12 matchup between North Dakota State and Oklahoma, which could very easily see the Summit League champ send Boomer Sooner home early.
Baylor vs. Nebraska is another great game, and what could be more fun than watching a great guy like Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles prematurely end another NCAA run by Scott Drew.
Enough of my petty peccadillos against coaches and programs I don’t care for. If the right teams win next weekend, look at the Sweet Sixteen we could enjoy. In the Midwest Region in Indianapolis, Louisville, Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan could advance. At the beginning of the season, that would have been the pick by many experts for the Final Four.
In the West, Arizona, Wisconsin, San Diego State, and Dougie McBuckets’ Creighton squad could advance to Anaheim. New York will be the destination for East Region combatants, and those could be Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Villanova. Some great dry rub at the Rendezvous might be on tap in Memphis for Florida, UCLA, Syracuse and Kansas.
There is a lot of Indiana flavor in this tournament, regardless of the mediocre disposition of the Hoosier based teams. Maurice Creek had a great bounce back season (averaging 14.3 points per game) at George Washington – a nine seed that will play #8 seed Memphis in round one (and regardless of the terminology advanced by the NCAA, the games played prior to Thursday are “play-in games”, not the “First Round”).
The past two Indiana Mr. Basketballs will play for Michigan State and Michigan. Gary Harris is a first team All-Big Ten selection for Sparty and a teammate of Brandon Dawson from Gary Wallace. 2013 Mr. Basketball Zak Irvin plays for the Wolverines, along with Glenn Robinson (Lake Central) and Spike Albrecht (Crown Point). The ageless Stephan Van Treese attended Lawrence North High School. He’s one of these kids who seems to have been playing college basketball for decades.
Right now, there are 68 teams with dreams, and the great thing about the tournament is that with each round the dream lives for half the teams. Finally, there is only only left standing. Sixty-seven sets of teary-eyed kids who have worked their entire life for a chance to live this dream, and only one that gets to experience the exultation of emerging from the carnage a champion.
Can’t wait for Thursday.