I am on the record as saying I was worried about having Syracuse as the fourth-seed in Indiana's region in the East. I knew it was the kind of team that could give Indiana fits-- and I was correct. Zone defense, length, shot blocking ability, and half court, slow-down basketball... all Indiana's Achilles heel issues came to the fore last night. Syracuse won the game-- enough said.
But this column is not about Indiana's inability to shoot from outside, or get good looks from inside-- you can hear boatloads about that from many other sources, including our own ESPN Radio. This column is about revenge-- pure and simple. Not one-- but two-- people from Syracuse had it on their minds last night.
1. Jim Boeheim. The legendary coach is nearing the end of his legendary career. He got his national championship-- but you had to know that loss to Indiana in 1987 had to gall him to no end. I don't think he got full closure from 1987 until last night's victory. It had to be especially sweet for him to win an NCAA Tourhament game against Indiana-- and in Washington no less... Big East territory.
2. Brandon Triche. Syracuse's starting guard had his own family's 1987 memories to put to bed. Remember Howard Triche? He is Brandon Triche's uncle-- and he was the defender that was nearest Keith Smart when Smart hit the shot to put the Hoosiers up for good in 1987. Do you think there was a bit of vindication for his uncle when Syracuse won last night?
Indiana had a good year-- but officially, not a great year. Cody Zeller could not take his Washington, Indiana mojo to Washington, DC last night. Indiana got in a massive early hole due to turnovers. Jordy Hulls disappeared in both tournaments-- the Big Ten tournament, and the NCAA tournament. The Hoosiers this year took another major step toward respectability. Indiana is getting there-- but as Syracuse showed last night, revenge is a lot larger motivator than respectability. Boeheim and Triche may now consider 1987 officially avenged.
Indiana vs. Syracuse. East Regional, Sweet 16 at Washington, DC. A rematch of a scintillating title game between the two in 1987. People remember Keith Smart winning it in the last second, but how many remember Indiana trailed by four with around a minute to go? Rather reminiscent of this year, don't you think?
Here's the question... does Indiana have any more rabbits left? Michigan State in East Lansing... Michigan in Ann Arbor... a late rally against a Temple team that actually was a great dress rehearsal for Syracuse... all magical escapes where Indiana took advantage of opportunity, and found a way to win. Exactly like 1987-- a freshman Derrick Coleman misses a free throw late, and Indians wins the title-- their last national title, to be exact.
Don't think Jim Boeheim has forgotten it, either. Revenge is a great motivator-- and don't think Boeheim hasn't brought up 1987 to his players. Mind you, all these kids playing weren't born when that game happened-- which makes Boeheim's longevity all the more remarkable.
This is the 26th year since Indiana got Smart. Can Indiana taste "Sweet" success against Boeheim's Orange? Yes... with some "if's"...
-- IF Indiana can get its outside shooting together. The Hoosiers looked awful from 3 range against Temple. The key man here? Jordy Hulls. He HAS to regain his mid-season form if Indiana is to win tonight. I think Indiana has to shoot at least 40 percent from 3 range tonight...
-- IF Indiana can get its transition game going of misses. Don't think Boeheim doesn't know about Indiana's speed, and will find a way to counter it.
-- IF Indiana doesn't give up a slew of offensive rebounds. I lost count of the second-chance opportunities Temple had against the Hoosiers.
-- IF Indiana can go into Big East territory and pull it out. They won over A-10 member Temple on an A-10 floor; now they have to beat Syracuse on a Big East floor. The floor inhabitant? Georgetown-- whom Indiana defeated themselves on a neutral Big East area floor-- at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Can Indiana get themselves to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2002? They CAN-- IF they channel their inner toughness. They made the Sweet 16 and played a great game agaisnt Kentucky a year ago... now it's time for them to do it again. Here's to hoping for Sweet success tonight....
It was around 12:30 am Eastern time. The location-- Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The United States soccer team had stood on its head defensively to hold Mexico to a scoreless tie. It was a major point the United States made-- both literally, with a vital World Cup soccer qualifying point on the road; and figuratively, adding to a friendly win the U.S. got at the Azteca in 2012.
Imagine just how tough it is to get a tie-- much less a win-- at the Azteca for the U.S. National team. Imagine you are standing there in 80-plus degree heat, in a stadium at 7,200 feet altitude, with smog so thick you can barely breathe. Oh, did I also throw in 110,000 screaming Mexicans all around you-- some throwing objects at you, and many calling you a bunch of vile names? Yeah, imagine that-- and imagine playing a home team there in the top 20 in the world. Now you may get an idea of how tough it is to play at the Azteca.
Just after midnight at the Azteca, the United States got the result it wanted. The Americans didn't expect to win-- not with a patchwork defense decimated by injuries. Not with the memories of former U.S.-Mexico games-- including the Americans' win over Mexico in 2002 in the World Cup Round of 16, leading the U-S to its best World Cup result in 72 years. And especially not with the Mexican fans and press criticizing their own team-- El Tricolores are fifth in the six-team qualifying group right now.
Heroes? There were a few. The American defense bending but not breaking. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan-- the Aston Villa stopper in for the injured Tim Howard. He is in great form for Villa, and he showed it in the ultimate pressure cooker-- the Azteca. Finally, the American resolve was on full display-- grind out a tie, and get out of Dodge. That is exactly what they did...
The Americans are in the automatic World Cup qualifying spots at this time. And the best news? They now have time to get healthy, before they have to play again. They face a huge three-game qualifying knot in the summer; those three games may either make--or break-- their chances to make their seventh-straight World Cup.
That is all in the future though. Right now, enjoy the point the American's made-- literally and figuratively-- just after midnight. Midnight at the Azteca.
In 2006, the United States sent a "Redeem Team" to the World Basketball Championships, to redeem a poor effort that happened in 2002. In 2002, a lethargic team offered a lethargic performance, and was knocked out in the quarterfinals of the W-B-C that year. The Redeem Team re-established American dominance of basketball.
We had a similar story in the recently-completed IHSAA basketball state finals. In 2A, the Linton Miners did some redeeming themselves. Linton has always been a football town-- with the center of the town's affection centering on Roy Williams Field. But for a magical four-week run, LInton fans forgot football, and centered their affection on the basketball court.
Where does the Redeem Team come in? Simply put, Linton fans have had great hopes dashed in football year after year. They have come close to a football state final three separate times-- a blocked extra point in double overtime in 2004, a lost 14 point 4th quarter lead in 2010, and a loss in a tight game last fall, in 2012. All happened in the Semi-State, or Final 4, round of the Class A football playoff. But this team redeemed the close calls on grass with an inspired four weeks on wood.
It all started with a loss against Clay City-- only one of four they would suffer. The loss at Clay City abruptly ended a series of mediocre wins in January. What happened? The Miners woke up-- they played to their talent level, and reached their potential. That potential was on display throughout the tournament-- in the Sectional, Regional, and Semi-State rounds. In the state championship, they lost to a Bowman Academy team who was slightly better. No shame there.
The Linton "Redeem Team." Four weeks of inspired tournament play on wood redeemed three Semi-State disappointments on grass. That is the legacy of Austin Karaszia, Dess Fougerousse and Company-- call them "The Basketball Redeemers."
One thing that we learn in college basketball is the better team doesn't always win. This is a one-game shot-- not a seven-game series. Temple was the better team Sunday afternoon, but Indiana found a way to win. If Temple's other players shoot anywhere near a decent percentage, Indiana loses double digits. Defensively, Temple held Indiana down, and made them struggle. But-- Indiana found a way to win! That is the mark of a good team. Indiana has done it three times now-- against Michigan State, against Michigan, and now against Temple. But Sunday's game was even more so-- since Michigan and Michigan State are similar teams to the Hoosiers. Temple was a different breed of cat-- kinda like sticking Wisconsin smack-dab in the middle of North Philly. Temple was not known as a defensive team-- they turned into one on Sunday. Temple was known as an offensive team-- they weren't on Saturday, to their demise. But you had to love Coach Fran Dunphy's game plan. Fran Dunphy sounds like a boxer's name-- appropriate for a team from Philly. He also has that hard-man attitude that works for that city. And, appropriately, Temple thought they landed the knockout punch-- but Indiana got off the canvas in the final round, and outpointed Temple where it counted-- on the scoreboard. Indiana plays on Friday, but Temple was the better team on Sunday.
A couple of other notes...
-- Dasing through the snow... the U-S Soccer team won an almost must-win game in a Colorado blizzard on Friday night. A deflection in the first half gave the U-S team a 1-0 win, and second place in World Cup qualifying. Next up... a trip to the Azteca Stadium to face Mexico on Tuesday. Remember, the Americans won a friendly last time there-- I get a feeling it won't be that easy this time around... Is a point possible with a tie? Yes...it isn't expected, but it IS possible.
-- What a weekend for the NCAA Tournament. The tournament's first two full rounds is the most wonderful time of the year-- 4 days with 12 hours of tournament drama, from noon to midnight and past!! This year was even better... I mean Florida Gulf Coast? Ole Miss over Wisconsin? Ohio State and Indiana's great escapes? New Mexico losing in the opening round? They were in my Final Four, for crying out loud... It is the best weekend, and the worst-- best for the basketball content, worst because it turned my bracket into cat litter...
Ok... I am oficially an idiot. Yeah, you may have known that already, but it was proven last night around 11:45 pm when Harvard defeated New Mexico. I said in an earlier post that "This was Steve Alford's time, and he had the team he wanted." WRONG!!! Credit Tommy Amaker's team... Harvard did the job last night. The Crimson left me red-faced last night. Now if I had made an educated guess on that game.... but NO!! I was an idiot...
Now on to other things. I told you I thought Syracuse was a difficult nut to crack, and with that demolition of Montana last night, I am more convinced. Southern University vs. Gonzaga? Almost at 1-16 upset... it WILL happen-- I just hope it isn't TODAY...
Thursday's impressive trends? VCU-- man Shaka Smart can create havoc... Pac-12-- better than expected result yesterday for a team that needs respect... Louisville-- Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are a nasty guard combination... and Syracuse-- One word...wow!!
Finally, good luck to Linton tomorrow. May all the years of Red Sox-like football results be redeemed tomorrow afternoon at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in basketball. It is a fitting end to the careers of Karaszia and Company. And if Linton wins the title, half of the trophy should be sent about 20 miles up SR 59 to Clay City-- Linton's loss to the Eels gave them the focus to go on this final run.
In the words of the late Andy Williams, "it's the most...wonderful time...of the year." No it isn't Christmas-- it's the first four days of the NCAA tournament. 12 hours worth of basketball for 3 days straignt, and 9 hours on the fourth day. You got to love it...
I have attended the first two rounds-- excuse me, the second and third rounds now-- of the tournament in 2003 and 2005. It is my favorite set of rounds to watch-- because you get more quality games for your money, and you get the chances for an earthquake of an upset. The first two full rounds are for the small fry-- the Valparaisos and the Ionas and the North Carolina A and T's... and no, it ISN'T named for the phone company...
Some of the small fries, though, become big fries over time. Remember Butler? They took their mid major status to national finals appearanecs in 2010 and 2011-- and eventually to the A-10, and now the newly reformed Big East. Remember Gonzaga? Once known as the school of Hall of Famer John Stockton, now-- in case you missed it-- it is the home of the Number 1 team and number 1 seed in the West Region.
Is there another Butler out there? Could it be a Creighton? A Saint Mary's? a Colorado State? A Belmont? Maybe Butler itself? Butler is lurking at Number 6 and they have done it before...
A couple of other questions to ponder...
1. Is the Big Ten as good as advertised? I think the Big Ten is slightly overrated, but we will see...
2. Will Indiana find its consistency? If they can, they are as good as anyone in the country. After all, they have the Presidential seal of approval...
3. Will a team come out of the woodwork to string a deep run? Don't count out Minnesota for that...
4. Will office production suffer from these next 2 days? They don't give you a "boss button" for nothing...
I am in the minority. I am one of those who is not sold on Indiana University's chances...yet. I have seen too much to be sold yet-- too much national acclaim, too much crowning of Indiana before a game was played, and too much inconsistency.
How much can a team with a great balance of seniors and underclass talent be inconsistent? Quite a bit... I saw a team who should have blown Illinois out of the building take their foot off the gas in the quarterfinal. I saw a team whose Big Ten outright championship depended on missed free throws and the luck of a ball rolling off the rim. I saw a team who showed its Achilles heel large and loud in the loss to Wisconsin. That Achilles heel? Slow-down teams who play defense-- ironically, the style former coach Bob Knight loved. Finally, I agree with ESPN's Colin Cowherd-- the Big Ten is a bit overrated this year. The Mountain West was the overall Number 1 conference in RPI, and the Big East may have been the Big Ten's equal this year.
Now, all that said, can Indiana get to the Final Four? Yes-- but with a few "if's." IF the REAL Jordan Hulls stands up...and he didn't in the Big Ten tournament. IF Cody Zeller stands up and gives Indiana the inside presence they need. IF indiana reduces turnovers, and IF Indiana gets favorable matchups. And finally, IF Indiana gets bench play from 7 on down the line-- and that means Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Perea, Remy Abell, and Mo Creek.
All that said, Indiana is still in my bracket Final Four. Homer prediction? Perhaps. But, this team has a load of talent, and this program did it before. In 1992, an Indiana team with a little less talent swooned at the end of the year, regrouped, and reached the Final Four before losing in the final seconds to eventual national champ Duke. The setup is too good for it not to happen again-- and this IU team is more talented that that one. Finally, that Sweet 16 run last year set them up for this run... IF Indiana doesn't read how good it is supposed to be, and actually PROVES it.
All the Bracketology is complete now. Now comes the waiting game, as everyone awaits the NCAA's real beginning on Thursday. Yeah, eight teams will play the next two days, but come on now-- the NCAA's really start on Thursday.
The top storylines...
1. Indiana misses out on the Midwest bracket, and a chance to go to Indianapolis. However, all the analysts I hear think this is a good thing. Louisville wins the Number 1 seed-- and their reward is seeking Duke as Number 2 seed, along with Michigan State at Number 3 and a rapidly-respected Saint Louis at Number 4. Gentlemen, start your engines in Indianapolis. Indiana is in the East, with Miami, Marquette, and Syracuse at 2-4. Honestly-- Syracuse scares the pants off me as an Indiana fan. At least the Hoosiers get to play at Dayton first-- and that should lead to a good home court advantage at the U-D Arena.
2. Kentucky is on the outside looking in. Is it rare that the national champ misses the tournament the next year? I thought so, but actually it isn't that rare. This is the 20th tournament that the defendending champ has not made it the next year. Couldn't have happened to a nicer team? Well.... all I have to say is it's ironic that their arch-nemesis-- Louisville-- will play at Rupp, while Kentucky travels to George Mason in the NIT-- and their 3, 000 seat gym. Fortunately for Kentucky, there may not be 3,000 fans wanting to see them play in the NIT.
3. What's so rare as a day in June? Indiana playing its first game in the NCAA daytime... but this year it is happening. The Hoosiers will play at 4:10 Friday afternoon. You wonder how many half-day time off requests will be coming in that day...Honestly, I believe this is the first time since 1988 that the Hoosiers have played its first NCAA game in the afternoon. Usually, it's "Late NIght with the Hoosiers" at the NCAA's-- maybe in honor of fellow Hoosier David Letterman?
4. The Big Ten got seven teams in... and would have been 8, had Iowa not collapsed. This is where we determine if the Big Ten really WAS America's best conference. It worries me that everyone called the Big Ten America's best conference, and Indiana as America's best team. Did Indiana play like the best time in America? Yes, at times. But the Hoosiers have been maddeningly inconsistent. Four of their losses-- to Butler, Wisconsin (twice), and Ohio State-- were against aggressive, good defensive teams. Good defense can give Indiana trouble. Also, my opinion? This team HAS to have Jordan Hulls shooting well. He has to snap out of a slump; if he can, Katie bar the door.
5. Syracuse as a 4 seed-- especially in the East-- worries me. That is a team that can give Indiana fits...
6. Louisville is the best team in the country-- right now. Russ Smith, Peyton Siva, and Georghe Dieng have played great the last 3 weeks, and of course, Rick Pitino has been there. As has Louisville-- they were a Final Four team a year ago.
7. Don't sleep in New Mexico. The Lobos are one of my Final Four teams. This is Steve Alford's time as a coach, and this team is gunning for respect. That is a dangerous combination.
Many people are waiting for Conference championships this weekend, as many basketball fans' fancy turns to the NCAA tournament-- and the Final Four. However, one team-- and one town-- has its mind on something else... redemption in a different Final Four.
The Linton Miners are no strangers to the state's Final Four-- in football. However, it has not been successful in the semi-final step toward winning the Class A football title. It has won Regional-- in effect, state quarterfinal-- football matchups three times since 2004. Each time the Semi-State-- or the Final Four-- has been its final resting place. Each time, the game has been close-- an overtime loss on a blocked extra point to tie; a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter that evaporated; and earlier this school year, a second half lead that vanished into the ether.
But Austin Karaszia and Company have a chance to redeem all those memories... on the basketball court. After as up and down a season as anyone can have while being 23-3, the Miners put it together following a home loss to Clay City. That loss seemed to galvanize the team, because after that, they have played some of their best ball of the year. Whatever Joey Hart said after that loss seemed to work, because here they are-- traveling to faraway Richmond to play Speedway in the 2A Semi-State. The Sparkplugs are 21-4, inside a city within a city on the northwest side of Indianapolis.
The Linton Miners may be playing Speedway, but a Miner win would put them on the fast track toward a state title-- and a little redemption. Football might be Linton's calling card-- but basketball is Indiana's sport. And this year, the round ball may take the Miners to a place the oval one has never seen before. Good luck to Linton at the Tiernan Center on Saturday.
Hello everyone... I am Tom Lee, and I am proud to be a Flame. It has been a madness I have carried since the 1992 NCAA tournament, when a player named Peter Aluma helped me catch the Flame fever. It has been a tough stretch since, with only one NCAA Tournament appearance-- in 2004-- to stoke the Flames' fire. Until now.
Hello everyone. I am Tom Lee, and I am a proud follower of Liberty University. I am sure you heard of them-- the 20 loss- not 20 win, 20-LOSS-- team that is heading to the NCAA's after winning the Big South tournament. You want Cinderella? She is carring the Flames logo. I do have ties to Liberty-- my sister in law attended there for a year before marrying my brother, and Liberty Founder, the late Jerry Falwell, is a fellow alum of mine from Baptist Bible College.
Hello everyone, I'm Tom Lee... and yes, Indiana University is still my favorite college team-- as it has been since 1975. However, for at least one game-- a week from tonight in Dayton, Ohio most likely-- I will be cheering for the Liberty Flames. If they win there, they may face Indiana on that same floor at U-D Arena in Dayton. If that happens, I would have to go for the Hoosiers-- but I am not going to make problems that aren't there yet. But for now, great job for Liberty University, and you have me in your corner, for all that's worth. One of the goals of Reverend Falwell when he started Liberty University was to play against the best teams in Division One. For the third time in their school's history, they may get that chance.
Hello, I'm Tom Lee... and I am proud to be a Flame.
Follow the bouncing ball. Four teams-- and millions of fans-- did just that around 6:10 pm on Sunday. Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan had their 2013 Big Ten fates determined by a bouncing ball. The ball was round and brown, and it hung on the rim-- put there by a rebound tip by Michigan's Jordan Morgan.
Let's quickly recap how we got to this point. In what may have been the best Big Ten title chase in a long time-- with some of the best teams and college brand names in the nation-- these four teams took turns beating each other up. They also were beat down at times by teams below them-- like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue, and Iowa. Even Penn State-- 12th in the Big 10-- took out Michigan at home.
Even the last Big 10 game of the year-- the Indiana-Michigan game-- was a tense affair. Each team had a good lead, with the other coming back. Michigan was up six with under a minute left, only to see Indiana score seven straight. But it was that final tip that rolled out-- instead of in-- that gave Indiana its first outright Big 10 title in 20 years.
How brutal was that loss for Michigan? If the ball rollis in, four teams tie for the title, and Michigan is a 3 seed in the Big 10 tournament. Instead, Michgan-- Number 7 in the nation-- is a 5 seed in the tournament. Indiana was the Number 1 seed regardless, but they needed that victory to right the ship.
A basketball... balancing on the rim... the perfect symbol for one of the most balanced races in Big 10 history. The nation's best conference showed why on Sunday. as four teams' fates were sealed with four seconds to go, when the ball rimmed.... out-- and put Indiana in as Big 10 champions.
Vincennes University's basketball team this year is involved in something it took the NJCAA way too long to do. For years, V-U has taken a long road to qualify in district and regional competition-- with trips so long it took a road map to figure where they were going. It meant little or no fan support, long bus rides, and in some years (read: 2012)-- disappointing results.
Finally, the NJCAA came to its senses and gave the fans what they wanted-- an Indiana-Illinois regional competition. Eight teams play off for the title, and the winner moves to the national championship. It also brings back old rivalries-- like tonight... V-U plays its arch rival from 20 miles away,-- live and direct from Mount Carmel, Illinois... ladies and gentlemen, the Wabash Valley Community College Warriors. The game will be at Rend Lake-- the venue for the Region 24 tournament. If the Blazers win tonight, who may be waiting? Another team from within an hour's drive-- the Olney Central College Blue Knights.
If you are a dedicated V-U fan... or a casual one like me... this is how tournament basketball should be. Better to have your tournament fate decided by a team 30 minutes away, than one 800 miles away. Thanks, NJCAA-- this was long overdue, but well worth it.