Well it looks like the committee consulted the sacred texts (A 1 a.m. wikipedia dive when you’re bored and sleep fails to take you) before putting the bracket together because the result was an absolute storyline BANGER.
First, Indiana men’s basketball.
The program just has The Juice and always will. Indiana experienced the absolute depths of starting HPER benchwarmers in an actual college basketball game that counts in the 2000’s and rose from the ashes thanks to Tom Crean. The media hype was still there, despite the lowest of lows.
The Hoosiers miss the tournament for four years under Archie Miller and his all-forwards basketball? You better bet their games will still have some of the highest ratings with fans flocking to neutral site matchups in Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Chicago the following year.
And now, finally, Indiana is back to being good. A narrative-rich program gets the No. 4-seed in a narrative-rich region. Yes, I currently am and will be far from the only person to either notice or write about it either.
Let’s revisit that bit about absolute depths, shall we?
Tom Crean won six games during his first season as Indiana’s head coach in 2008-09. Six, just a bit better than whatever’s currently going on down in Louisville. Much like Louisville had and may to some degree have the shadow of Rick Pitino lurking over it, so too did Indiana.
His name? Kelvin Sampson. You know, phone call man. The head coach of perennial title favorite Houston, the current No. 1-seed in the Midwest region arguably the best team in the country. If you don’t know about any of that, either as a casual fan or a younger one, allow me to briefly explain.
Indiana hired Sampson as its next men’s basketball head coach following the resignation of Mike Davis, Bob Knight’s reluctant successor. He’d previously worked at Oklahoma, a job he said he wouldn’t leave unless an opportunity like... Indiana... came up.
He came with controversy, having sent Oklahoma into an investigation by the NCAA for recruiting violations stemming from impermissible phone calls to prospects. For that, he was barred from recruiting off-campus or making phone calls for a year. That ban ended the year he took the Indiana job.
Sampson, along with assistant Rob Senderoff, once again did violations at Indiana. Both eventually resigned their positions and Indiana was sent into a long, costly rebuilding process under Crean, who let fellow Sampson assistant and Jeff Meyer, who had since taken a job at Michigan, hear it after his Hoosiers beat the Wolverines in 2013.
He was out of college basketball for five years, moving up to the NBA ranks as an assistant before taking the Houston job in 2014 once his show cause penalty expired. Now he’s built an empire at Houston and seems fated for a national title at some point.
Houston might be the No. 1 seed to Indiana’s No. 4, but that matchup will have to wait for if both teams advance far enough to meet. But that’s not where the connections end.
Indiana has to get past No. 13-seed Kent State before it can get a shot at Sampson. Kent State’s head coach is the longest tenured in program history and leads a tough squad into tournament play.
The Golden Flashes are led by none other than Senderoff, hired as an assistant at Kent State following his resignation at Indiana and being promoted to head coach in 2011.
So, like we said, plenty of storylines here courtesy of the NCAA’s Selection Committee.
....Which is led by none other than Bradley athletic director Chris Reynolds, former Indiana men’s basketball team captain and winner of two Big Ten titles in 1991 and 1993.
Indiana has a chance to go on a run here, announce that the program has returned with an even louder megaphone than the regular season can provide.
The Hoosiers will have to get through the Kelvin Sampson Zone to do it.