For the first time in the Tom Crean era, the IU men’s basketball team will play in the NCAA Tournament. The No. 4-seeded Hoosiers will take on No. 13 New Mexico State on Thursday at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore.
“It’s is a major accomplishment for this team to be in this situation,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “Certainly a year ago this time, throughout the spring, the summer, the fall, the preseason, the predictions, I don’t think anyone envisioned us at this point, having a day like this.”
Senior guard Verdell Jones III — who tore his right ACL in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and is out for the season — said seeing IU’s name official in the tournament was an even better feeling than upsetting a top-five team.
“I’m ecstatic,” Jones said. “We finally got over that hump. To beat Kentucky, all those games were fun but to see your name up there, not have to worry about if you’re in or not, it’s a great feeling.”
IU was announced during the first regional unveiled during the selection show earlier tonight. Though IU had been projected into the tournament, junior forward Derek Elston said the realization of the moment was still what he always hoped it would be.
“A lot of blood sweat and tears has gone into bringing Indiana back,” Elston said. “To see our name come up there and to be a four seed, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
The four seed came despite IU losing to Wisconsin on Friday afternoon in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. Crean said he was glad to see the committee not slight the Hoosiers because of one afternoon.
“The seed is nice because it reflects the body of work,” Crean said. “But then it truly becomes, how do you match up? How do you match up in the first game? What are the possibilities of the second game? Then you look ahead and see what your bracket looks like.”
But while IU is focused on the first-round matchup against New Mexico State, the Hoosiers already have doubters looking ahead.
CBS college basketball analyst Seth Davis immediately predicted that IU would fall in the second round to the fifth-seeded Wichita State squad. Crean said all that does is motivate his team.
“That’s Seth Davis,” Crean said. “Seth has been giving us ammunition all year. Seth is the gift that keeps on giving right now with his predictions.”
If the Hoosiers are to prove Davis wrong, it will come on unfamiliar territory. The furthest west IU has traveled this year was a conference showdown at Nebraska.
Elston said if IU can play to its potential, it won’t matter where the Hoosiers are playing.
“We’ll see what happens,” Elston said. “If we play the way we can, it can be a pretty long season for us still.”
IU has been at the heart of college basketball this season after wins against each of its top-five opponents. The Hoosiers have been ranked in both polls for more than three months.
But no matter what IU’s NCAA fate is, Sunday represented the official recognition that this program is back with the top in the country. That memory is something Crean said his players won’t soon forget.
“You don’t start following college basketball without knowing what this day means and knowing what that selection show means,” Crean said. “Every one of them, no matter what age they started watching, they remember it and now they will always have this to remember.”
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