Bloomington, Ind. – Maybe the NCAA got a head start on doling out some punishment to the IU basketball program.
Projected by most as a No. 5 or 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers (25-7) were unveiled as a No.8 in the East Region Sunday night. The Hoosiers punishment for their poor finish is a first-round match match-up against ninth-seeded Arkansas (22-11) in Raleigh, N.C. on Friday, and a potential second-round encounter with the top-seeded team in the tournament, North Carolina (32-2).
Shortly after the announcement IU Coach Dan Dakich and players D.J. White and Eric Gordon didn't scream foul about the NCAA Selection Committee's decision, but they didn't seem overly enthused about it, either.
"I have a lot of feeling about (our seed), and I think probably there's a lot more involved to it than winning and losing," Dakich said.
Reading between the lines, maybe the NCAA Selection Committee wasn't looking to do the Hoosiers any favors a couple months before they are supposed to appear before the Infractions Committee for alleged violations committed by former Coach Kelvin Sampson and his staff.
"It happens," D.J. White said. "We're just happy to be in the tournament. You really can't dwell on stuff like that."
While the Committee might not have done IU any favors, the Hoosiers didn't do themselves much good either with their play down the stretch. Indiana is just 3-3 in its last six games, including back-to-back losses to Penn State and Minnesota to close the season.
Indiana had an opportunity to improve its standing in the eyes of the committee over the weekend at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, but a 59-58 loss to the Gophers didn't do much convince anyone the Hoosiers are the same team that started the season 24-4 and was ranked in the nation's top 10.
While some in Indiana circles might be crying foul, IU's less-than-stellar seeding might be more of a reflection of the Committee's opinion of the Big Ten overall. Conference regular season and postseason champion Wisconsin (29-4) was only a No. 3 seed despite clearly establishing itself as the league's best team. Defending national runner-up Ohio State, meanwhile, was snubbed despite 19 wins and victories over both Michigan State and Purdue in the final week of the regular season.
Many are already talking about a potential second-round match-up with Roy Williams' top-seeded Tar Heels, but the Hoosiers will have their hands full with an Arkansas team that finished second in its division of the SEC and was the postseason tournament runner-up to Georgia. Their journey to the title game included wins over No. 18 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Tennessee before losing to Georgia Sunday afternoon.
Coached by first-year coach John Pelphrey, Arkansas is a balanced team with five players who averaged between nine and 15 points. Sonny Weems leads the way with 14.3 points, while former IU recruiting target Patrick Beverley is next at 12.3.
"If we're a good team, a team that's as good as we were projected to be, we'll have a chance to prove it," Dakich said. "We'll have a chance to prove it the first weekend."
That's something Eric Gordon says he's excited about. The Hoosiers' leading scorer will be making his first appearance in the NCAA tourney, and he's hoping the team can right itself in time to be more than an afterthought in this year's postseason.
"All I see is a great opportunity," Gordon said.
It's an opportunity, but a daunting one. The Hoosiers will clearly need to find a way to return to the form they displayed in January and February when they were one of the nation's elite, as opposed to now when they're one of the nation's most puzzling teams.
Dakich is looking to four days of practice to try to figure that out, and he's encourage by the fact he's seen what this team is capable of doing.
But he's also cautious, because he's well aware of what's happened lately.
"The bottom line is to advance in the NCAA Tournament, particularly when you struggle down the stretch, you're going to have to beat good teams, period," Dakich said. "If we play the way we're capable of playing, we can play with most anybody.
"We've also proven it the other way."
Committee Doesn't Do IU Any Favors
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