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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Column: Indiana’s path to the Final Four

Indiana may not be playing in the Midwest region, but the goal remains the same as it was on day one for IU Coach Tom Crean’s crew.

Get to Atlanta in any way possible.

“There’s a lot of different roads and paths that you have to go through to get to your destination and goals, and this is just one of them,” Crean told the media Sunday after IU was selected as the No. 1 seed of the East.

The Hoosiers have to feel like they have a major advantage going through the East region to get to the Final Four.

In the first round, the Hoosiers should breeze by James Madison.

After the round of 64, the Hoosiers will take on the winner of No. 8 N.C. State and No. 9 Temple.

I’ve heard a lot of people projecting the No. 8 Wolfpack into the second round already, but I wouldn’t sleep on the No. 9 Owls, who have wins against Villanova, Syracuse, Saint Louis and VCU — all NCAA tournament teams.

To this day, a lot of IU’s players and coaches still reference last season’s 86-75 win against N.C. State as a turning point that gave the Hoosiers the confidence to ultimately upset Kentucky only 10 days later.

This year’s version of the Wolfpack features five players averaging in double-digit scoring, including C.J. Leslie with 14.9 PPG.

But the real question facing N.C. State is: Can they defend?

N.C. State ranks 112th in the nation, giving up 70.1 PPG to opponents.

The Wolfpack’s deficiencies on defense should have the Hoosiers licking their chops in anticipation of an all-out offensive attack on the ACC’s fourth-place team.

In what is sure to be a high-scoring game, whoever defends better will advance out of Dayton to Washington, D.C., for the Sweet 16 — advantage IU.

Waiting for the Hoosiers in D.C. will probably be a team that will make IU fans flash back to Indiana’s last NCAA championship game in 1987.

The No. 4 Syracuse Orange will have to go through No. 13 Montana and No. 5 UNLV to get to Washington, D.C., but if they do, Jim Boeheim’s team could test IU more than any other team before the Elite Eight.

The Orange are famous for using the 2-3 zone defense that forces opponents into making perimeter shots while evacuating offensive big men out of the middle of the lane.

At times this season when the Hoosiers have lacked offensive movement, IU has struggled against zones, but Crean said he believes his team’s mindset allows the team to continue to learn from its past flaws.

“The trick is, ‘Can you keep getting better?’” Crean said. “It’s not like all of a sudden the things that we didn’t do well yesterday will just totally, magically be back to where they need to be, and it’s not like the things that we did do well will just be there if we don’t get better at it.”

The Hoosiers’ final test before Atlanta gets a lot cloudier once you begin to project an Elite Eight matchup.

Two teams that have beaten IU — No. 6 Butler and No. 7 Illinois — have a chance for another crack at the Hoosiers, but one of those teams would probably have to go through No. 2 Miami in the process.

Butler would play Miami in the Sweet 16, and Illinois would play Miami in the round of 32, assuming they advance.

Although a battle for Indiana basketball supremacy would be fun and nerve-racking for everyone in the country’s 19th state, I see the Hurricanes moving on to the Elite Eight for another ACC-Big Ten matchup.

What a monumental game that could be.

The Big Ten regular season champs against the ACC regular season and tournament champions.

At that point, you have to throw the records out the window, because both teams will be immersed in the new energy level that comes with the new season of “win or go home.”

“With the whole energy level of going to play somebody different in a different environment in a tournament like this, the unknown is a great force multiplier,” Crean said. “There’s no question about it, and I think they will feel that.”

With all of the pre-season expectations to live up to, anything less than a Final Four bid would seem like a disappointing finish for the Hoosiers.

But from how far this program has come under Crean in the last five years, IU fans should be able to just enjoy wherever this NCAA tournament journey will take them.

All while keeping their eyes on the goal that has been set from day one: Atlanta or bust.

— mdnorman@indiana.edu

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