At every Indiana Pacers home game, the PA announcer’s introduction of the home team is precluded by a montage of memorable Indiana basketball moments. Everything from high school to the pros is highlighted in the quick 30-second piece. It ends with these simple words resting on the screen: “In 49 other states it’s just basketball. But this is Indiana.” While the Pacers have represented the state well this season, competing with San Antonio for the NBA’s best record, the same cannot be said for its storied college basketball programs. For the first time in nine years March Madness will not include any Hoosier hoops hysteria. Not one of Indiana’s schools has qualified for the Big Dance this season.
The biggest punch in the gut for the Hoosier state came Thursday, when its two largest schools, Indiana and Purdue, both bowed out in the opening round of the Big-10 tournament that is being hosted in Indianapolis. The 17-15 Hoosiers never were able to find a rhythm in a 64-54 loss to Illinois, and the Boilermakers (15-17) gave No. 24 Ohio State all it could handle, but still fell 63-61.
With 10 Division I teams in the state, not one was good enough to join the field of 68. To put this into perspective, North Dakota has a team in the Big Dance, but Indiana does not. This marks the first time since 2005 that no team from the Hoosier State will be represented in the NCAA tournament. Back then there were only 64 bids, now there is 68. Before that fateful year, the last time Indiana was shutout was in 1973, when only 25 teams were selected for the tournament. What happened to Hoosier hoops hysteria in this once proud basketball Mecca? This is the state where the Hoosiers delivered a perfect season, Larry Bird nearly did the same with mid-major Indiana State, 41,000 fans flocked to downtown Indianapolis to watch Damon Bailey win a high school championship and tiny 2,000 student Butler University marched to back-to-back national title appearances.
Along with the Hoosiers and Boilermakers, the other top-tier basketball programs in the state all suffered various degrees of bad luck. Butler made the leap into the formidable Big East conference this season without its young stud coach, Brad Stevens, who finally got an offer that he could not refuse when the Boston Celtics came calling last summer. Not only that, but the team’s best player, Roosevelt Jones, was lost for the year with a wrist injury. The result was a 14-17 record and a first round exit courtesy of Seton Hall in the Big East tournament.
Notre Dame did not fair any better for the Hoosier State. The Fightin’ Irish joined the loaded Athletic Coast Conference this season just in time to see one of their better scorers, Jerian Grant, ruled ineligible to play. Notre Dame also lost Cameron Biedscheid, who decided to transfer. The 14-17 Irish saw their season come to an end Thursday at the hands of fellow cellar-dweller Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament.
The Hoosier state’s hopes for post season redemption fell on the shoulders of two solid, but not excellent, mid-major schools. Bird’s former school, Indiana State, posted a 23-10 record on the way to a Missouri Valley tournament championship game. The problem is that they ran into the buzz saw that is 34-0 Wichita State. The Shockers disposed of the Sycamores 83-69. That left Indiana with one shot left, and it was the Mastadons. The Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne University Mastodons were the state of Indiana’s last hope for a birth in the Big Dance. IPFW, which has only been a Division I program since 2001, rode a 24-10 record all the way to the Summit League tournament championship, but North Dakota State held off the mighty Mastodons by a count of 60-57.
For the die-hard fans of Hoosier hoops hysteria, there is at least the NCAA Division II tournament. Both the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana have qualified for this tourney in the hopes of bringing some respect back to the Hoosier state.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika