Many of the Indiana faithful expected the Indiana Hoosiers to get the overall No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday, despite the fact that they got bounced from the Big Ten Tournament early. But they didn’t, and Hoosier fans should be thankful.
The Hoosiers were the one team NCAA selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski said was a lock to be a No. 1 seed no matter what happened during the Big Ten Tournament’s final two days. And IU certainly had the resume: an outright Big Ten conference title, nine weeks ranked No. 1, nine wins against the top 50 in the RPI, zero losses to teams outside of the top 50, and two players in consideration for national player of the year in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
But the last few games hurt the Hoosiers’ chances to be an overall No. 1. They lost three of their last six and more importantly got dismissed early from the Big Ten Tournament despite being the top seed.
Instead, the overall No. 1 seed went to Louisville. But IU shouldn’t be moping. The Midwest is loaded with teams that could conceivably reach the Final Four besides Louisville. Duke – which could have easily received a No. 1 seed – is the region’s No. 2 seed, setting up a potentially legendary match-up between Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino. While Duke has looked disappointing at times this year – especially against Maryland in the ACC Tournament – Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee still lead one of the nation’s best offenses. Plus, Duke beat Louisville in a non-conference game earlier in the season, granted without Cardinals’ center Gorgui Dieng.
Likewise, Michigan State and even St. Louis could pose serious challenges for Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight. It’s true that Sparty has lost four of its last seven games (all to ranked Big Ten teams, mind you) and couldn’t contain Ohio State’s Aaron Craft in the Big Ten Tournament championship game. But Izzo and his six Final Fours can never be counted out in March. If Keith Appling and Gary Harris show up on offense, the Spartans are about as complete of a team as there is in the tournament. Meanwhile, St. Louis beat No. 6-seeded Butler and survived a sustained comeback from No. 5-seeded VCU’s “Havoc” defense in the Atlantic 10 to gain the No 4 seed in the tourney. The Billikens are not only led by steady seniors Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis, but they’ve been playing seriously inspired basketball since the death of coach Rick Majerus.
Comparatively, the East region appears to be an easier road to Atlanta for the No. 1-seeded Hoosiers. Their true obstacle looks to be the No. 2 Miami Hurricanes, which won both the ACC regular season and the ACC tournament and split a pair of games with Duke. But this is the first time Miami (FL) has been in this position, and their inexperience may catch up with them. While the Hurricanes’ defense is one of the best in the country, the Hoosiers likely have enough firepower to break it down inside with Zeller and behind the 3-point line with Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls.
The true tests for IU could be Syracuse and even Butler. The Orange’s half-court game and 2-3 zone could cause problems for the Hoosiers, a team that wants to get out and run on every possession. But if Tom Crean is able to set the tempo of the game, the Hoosiers’ offense could outmatch Jim Boeheim’s zone by either scoring before it gets set, or simply having Watford or Hulls shoot over it from the perimeter.
If Butler advances, the Bulldogs could prove to be a serious problem for Indiana. They already beat the Hoosiers once on a neutral floor this season, and they could do it again. If there’s been one type of team that has proven successful against Indiana, it’s one that’s tough inside, can bully Zeller around down low and is patient inside a half-court offense. Butler checks all those boxes.
Still, the East region is a much easier route for Indiana than it would’ve been in the Midwest, even with the hometown crowds driving an hour from Bloomington to Indianapolis. Consider that most of Indiana’s biggest wins this year were either on neutral floors (Georgetown) or on the road (Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan).
But maybe the best thing about being in the East region is that it’s far, far away from a team that Crean is 0-10 against since he became IU’s head coach: Wisconsin.
Updated March 20, 9:50 a.m.: An earlier version stated that Tom Crean is 0-12 against Wisconsin as IU’s head coach. He is 0-10.