Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Sports

March 15, 2012

THE SKINNY: March Madness has arrived

GOSHEN — Got your brackets filled out yet?

Scant time remains before this afternoon’s second-round NCAA Tournament games (which are really the first round, but are now called the second round because the contrived “First Four” games now are called the first round.

At any rate, now that we’re all confused, that particular malady we know as “March Madness” hits full-force today.

For the Indiana Hoosiers, it’s the first trip to the Big Dance in awhile. And it’s nice to see Tom Crean’s hard work and faith in a program laid bare by the disgraced Kelvin Sampson rewarded.

It’s been a long four years as Hoosier fans have waited for Indiana to rise from the proverbial ashes.

The fourth-seeded Hoosiers’ return to the tournament kicks off tonight at 9:30 Eastern time in Portland, Oregon, as Indiana (25-8) takes on 13th-seeded New Mexico State (26-9) in a South Regional second-round game.

If the Hoosiers can get past the Aggies, then the stage could be set for a possible Sweet 16 matchup with top-seeded Kentucky.

That would certainly be a media-friendly affair. But first, the Hoosiers need to handle their business tonight against New Mexico State. If they can do that, a third-round matchup awaits on Saturday against the winner of the game between fifth-seeded Wichita State (27-5) and 12th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth University (28-6).

The Rams, avid hoop fans will remember, roared out of the First Four last year and made it all the way to the Final Four.

It’s the kind of story that isn’t supposed to happen, but seemingly does every year.

Elsewhere around our state, Notre Dame has come on with a good late-season push, and Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish are in the same South Regional. The Irish (22-11) are seeded seventh and take on 10th-seeded Xavier (21-12) Friday night.

Another interesting backstory could be developing with the Irish, because if Notre Dame gets past Xavier in the first round, a second-round matchup with second-seeded Duke (27-6) could be waiting. The Blue Devils are not their usual dominating selves this season, but the history of No. 2-vs.-No. 15 matchups is not promising for Duke’s opponent, Lehigh (26-7). No. 15-seeds have reached the Round of 32 just four times over the years.

Meanwhile, Purdue rounds out a trio of Indiana schools making the tournament this year. The Boilermakers (21-12) are seeded No. 10 and play No. 7 St. Mary’s (27-5) in Omaha, Neb. Friday night.

My alma mater, San Diego State, is back in the tournament this year, surprisingly to some after losing a bunch of players off a team that won the first NCAA Tournament game in school history last year and then, for an encore, made it to the Sweet 16 before bowing out.

The Aztecs (26-7) are seeded No. 6 in the Midwest Regional and take on No. 11 North Carolina State (22-12) on Friday. This is a matchup that concerns me, first because 6-11 games are often prime upset territory, and secondly because the Wolfpack is back in the tournament after a lengthy absence. After spending several years working in North Carolina, I saw firsthand the Duke-North Carolina rivalry — which is very much analogous to the Indiana-Purdue rivalry here in our state.

North Carolina State has been a third wheel in Carolina basketball for awhile, and while it’s nice to see the Wolfpack relevant again, I wish they were playing someone else.

But they aren’t, and the tournament draw is what it is. If my Aztecs can get past the much-improved Wolfpack, the road to New Orleans doesn’t get any easier, as they would likely see third-seeded Georgetown in the third round.

These kinds of what-ifs and maybes are part of what makes the tournament the special thing it is.

Hopefully, some of you have entered our bracket contest here at the Goshen News. In addition to being its usual mixture of fun and games, the bracket contest comes with financial rewards: $300 for first place; $150 for second; and $100 for third.

Of course, employees of the paper are not eligible, so some of us are participating in a for-entertainment-purposes-only in-house contest. I’ve made some safe choices, but gone out on a limb or two.

Ordinarily, I find myself mourning my blown-up bracket sometime after the third-round games.

Will this year be different? Time will tell.

Bring on the madness!

Contact sports editor David Vantress at 533-2151, ext. 325 or by email at david.vantress@goshennews.com.

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