BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Once Indiana saw its name unveiled on Sunday's NCAA Selection Show, senior Marshall Strickland had a message for the team's freshmen.
"I told the freshmen…my freshman year, I thought it would happen every year," Strickland said. "I thought it was a given. But it hasn't been."
Strickland arrived on IU's campus in the fall of 2002, five months after the team's march to the NCAA Championship game. While Strickland's debut season didn't include that same level of success, the Hoosiers did go 20-12 and earn a No. 7 seed. After knocking off Alabama in the first round, IU was dismissed in round two by second-seeded Pitt, 74-52, in Boston.
That was supposed to be the first of four trips to college basketball's grand stage for Strickland, but that hasn't materialized. Instead, the Hoosiers dropped out of the national spotlight during the last two seasons, falling to crack the nation's top 25 for even a single week during that two year span while going a combined 29-29.
A 12-3 start to the 2005-06 season and a top-10 national ranking had Strickland certain they'd be back to the postseason this year, but a mid-season swoon dropped IU out of the top 25, prompted IU Coach Mike Davis to announce his resignation, and had many thinking it would be another NCAA tourney sans Indiana.
But a late-season flourish not only earned Indiana an at-large invitation, but also a solid No. 6 seed in the Oakland region. Indiana will face Mountain West Conference regular and postseason champion San Diego State (24-8) on Thursday, with a potential match-up with third-seeded Gonzaga (27-3) on Saturday.
"It's nice to see your name come up," Strickland said. "We're really excited right now. We think we have a good draw, good seed. It's right there for us."
Strickland certainly isn't looking past Steve Fisher's San Diego State squad, which features MWC Player of the Year Brandon Heath. As a senior, Strickland knows that his college career will come to a close the next time the Hoosiers come up on the short end on the scoreboard, and he wants to put that on hold as long as possible.
"We have a lot of seniors on this team, and guys that this could be their last opportunity," Strickland said. "We're going to perform like that and give it everything we have."
Strickland expects the younger players to do the same. He's delivered the message that you never know when you'll get another chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, so make the most of each one when you get it.
"Now I get my second chance, and I'm going to let them know that they might not get another chance like this," Strickland said.
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