Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Hogs’ NIT opponent not one to take lightly
Indiana State guard/forward Manny Arop reacts as time expires during an MVC tournament game between Southern Illinois and Indiana State on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)
Indiana is a great basketball state, legendary in fact, thanks in part to Robert Knight and the University of Indiana and the movie Hoosiers, which will soon start airing on one of the 7 million TV stations it seems like we have these days.
Others such as Purdue, Ball State, Butler and IUPUI (please don’t call them Ooie-Pooie) have played roles as well.
So has Indiana State.
The late, great John Wooden played at Purdue, then went to Indiana State, where he was the head basketball coach, athletic director and baseball coach while he finished his master’s degree.
He was 44-15 at Indiana State before leaving for UCLA, where he won a record 10 NCAA championships.
Indiana State is mostly remembered for the 1978-1979 season when Larry Bird led the Sycamores to the NCAA championship, where they lost to Michigan State and Magic Johnson, which set up an intense rivalry between two players who helped breathe life into the NBA with Bird in Boston and Johnson in Los Angeles.
The Sycamores beat the Arkansas Razorbacks 73-71 to advance to the Final Four,and if memory serves - and it does in this case - U.S. Reed was tripped but called for walking late in the game.
But this year, the state of Indiana was shut out of the NCAA Tournament for only the second time since 1973.
Thanks to the Sycamores, Indiana basketball lives in the postseason, at least for tonight, when they invade Walton Arena to take on Arkansas.
Indiana State finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference - one of the stronger midmajor conferences - behind the hottest name in college basketball, Wichita State, which is the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991.
The Sycamores (23-10)were invited to the NIT over bigger-name programs such as Maryland, Marquette and Indiana, all of which had 17-15 overall records but competed in major conferences.
Don’t expect the Sycamores, a team with four seniors, including three who play major roles, to be intimidated.
Indiana State was in the NIT last year, losing to Iowa in the first round, and the seniors were freshmen when the team went to the NCAA Tournament.
That’s not to say the Sycamores see the kind of defensive pressure they are likely to experience tonight, but point guard Jake Odum has 149 assists and only 61 turnovers this season.
Indiana State had a slightly better RPI than Arkansas, No. 71 to No. 77, but the Sycamores’ strength of schedule probably never made them a factor for the NCAA Tournament.
They had a victory at Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish were pretty lousy this year. They did split with Belmont, which slipped up in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and landed in the NIT.
The Sycamores might not have had the NCAA rejection hangover the Hogs had Sunday night, but head Hog Mike Anderson has made it clear: Getting to the NIT is a step in the right direction, and he’s right.
This is the first postseason action for the Razorbacks since 2008, and they are likely one victory away from a rematch with California, which handed the Hogs their first loss of the season, 85-77, on Nov. 25 in Maui.
The Razorbacks are much better now than they were then, although the two season-ending losses are a bit puzzling because Alabama and South Carolina are not as talented as Arkansas.
Give Anderson credit for making the NIT important to his team. Now all the Razorbacks have to do is go out, play their game and not think for one second tonight will be a walkover - it won’t be.
Indiana State is a good basketball team.
Sports, Pages 17 on 03/18/2014