Indiana back after drought, ready for NMSU
Four years might not constitute an NCAA tournament drought for
At Indiana, that might as well be considered an eternity.
So don’t mind Hoosiers fans who are more than a little amped by
the turnaround that has taken what was a gutted program a few years
ago and turned it into a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament that is
about to face No. 13 seed New Mexico State (26-9) in the South
Region on Thursday.
The Hoosiers (25-8) have known for a while they’re back – if
their December upset of Kentucky wasn’t enough evidence. But still
seeing their name announced Sunday night was validation of the job
performed by coach Tom Crean in just a few short years.
”These guys are honored to be here. You can see it,” Crean
said. ”There’s nobody that feels like they’ve arrived or that
they’re just happy to be here. There’s nobody that’s taking it
lightly. And I think that’s the way that this team has evolved over
a period of time. They know what they’ve earned.”
Indiana was a tournament staple for more than 20 years, making
an appearance every season from 1980-2003, and then making three
more trips from 2006-08. That was when Crean arrived amid a NCAA
investigation for a phone-call scandal that occurred under his
predecessor, Kelvin Sampson. Within six weeks, the program was
Crean’s first team included only two returnees, both walk-ons,
two scholarship players (Tom Pritchard and Matt Roth) recruited by
Sampson, a junior college transfer and one freshman (Verdell Jones
III) that Crean convinced to sign with the Hoosiers in April.
After three seasons of struggle where the Hoosiers were a
combined 28-66, Indiana produced its most memorable regular season
in nearly a decade. It became the first Big Ten team in nearly six
decades to knock off a No. 1 team and a No. 2 team in the same
season. It finished with a perfect nonconference record for the
first time since 1989-90, a school-record 18 victories at Assembly
Hall and three regular-season wins over top-five teams for the
first time in school history.
A win over the Aggies on Thursday would give Indiana its most
wins since the 1992-93 team won 31 games. The Hoosiers already
snapped the school’s longest NCAA absence since the late 1960s and
”Back to the beginning of the year, it wasn’t anybody that
picked us to be here, let alone 4th seed, let alone winning 25
games. I don’t think outside expectations drive us,” Crean said.
”They’re like anybody else, when they’re doubted, when they’re
criticized, I’m sure they’re going to take that to heart. We’ll
have our times we throw that out there. We’ll have our times where
somebody will say something and we’ll use it. But this team right
now, they’re in a place where they’ve just got to understand what
makes them successful.”
While Indiana is back, the Hoosiers aren’t 100 percent. Jones
was lost for the season due a torn ACL in his right knee suffered
in the Big Ten tournament against Penn State. Jones scored 1,347
points in his career, but after all the problems the Hoosiers
overcame won’t even get to play this week. As an added tug, he’s
sick and is being isolated from his teammates.
Even without Jones, Indiana’s biggest concern isn’t in the
backcourt, but up front where New Mexico State features a massive
frontcourt that’s Big Ten quality in terms of size and a versatile
star in forward Wendell McKines, who averages a double-double.
McKines also has NCAA experience from 2010 when the Aggies nearly
knocked off Michigan State in the opening round.
When told Wednesday how much Indiana talked of needing to focus
on him, McKines joked, ”I’m a middle child so I enjoy the
”Sounds like Indiana is going to focus on me so that means my
teammates are going to have a whole lot of opportunity to be
successful in this game,” McKines said. ” … I’m pretty sure I’m
not going to see any defenses I haven’t seen. I know how to go
about being successful.”
This is the second tournament appearance since Marvin Menzies
took over as coach in Las Cruses, but this team is unique for the
amount of length and girth Menzies has accumulated. McKines, at
6-foot-6, is the Aggies leading rebounder at 10.8 per game, but the
rest of the Aggies’ frontcourt is 6-foot-8 or taller. NMSU ranks
third in the country in rebounding margin and lead the country in
free throws attempted – by more than 100 over the next closest
”I’ve got two brother-in-laws in the NFL that would probably
have a lot of interest in watching these guys with the size of body
and the speed they have,” Crean said. ”They look like they’re
full of tight ends and defensive ends when you look at them.
They’re a big team.”
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