Generating a new catchphrase to describe the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championships is nothing new. Dubbed “Championship Week” in media circles, 32 slots in your tournament bracket — nearly half the field of 64+4 teams qualifying — will be determined by next Sunday.
The remainder of the at-large field will be set March 17 by the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Selection Committee. The gnashing begins shortly thereafter on which deserving teams are being left out of the show.
Winning a post-season conference championship tournament may never be more important for Indiana teams than this year, in what has proved to be one of the least successful years for the state’s 10 Division 1 teams.
Only the Purdue Boilermakers, riding the top of the Big 10 with their lofty 23-8 record are a lock for the national tournament. Pundits claim that Indiana and Butler are “on the bubble” to make it in 2019. That bubble likely doesn’t hold much water.
Indiana’s season has been marked by huge mood swings. The Hoosiers (17-14) can boast a seven game winning streak, and are currently stacking wins at the end of the season by virtue of winning five in a row — a really good way to impress people. It includes a second upset of No. 2 Michigan State. However, Indiana also reeled with losing streaks of five and seven games this season.
The March 13-17 Big Ten Tournament in Chicago is Indiana’s only likely road out of Bloomington. They must post at least two wins against quality teams to have a shot.
Butler (16-15) just can’t find any traction, in what has become the first season in a long time the Bulldogs are irrelevant. The Bulldog’s winning record disguises being mired in last place in the Big East pantheon that includes No. 23 Marquette and No. 25 Villanova. The Bulldogs must win the conference tournament, March 13-16, to have their ticket punched.
The outsider with the best chance to win a conference tournament, and gain an NCAA berth, might just be Purdue Fort Wayne. The Mastodons took a ho-hum .500 record into the Summit League tournament, and added two opening round wins to stand 18-14. The ‘Dons made a Summit League tournament record sixteen 3-point shots, ousting South Dakota 96-70 this weekend.
Purdue Fort Wayne is led by senior guard John Konchar, who is the program’s all-time scoring leader, and will leave PFW with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Two more wins, and a national audience will enjoy watching his NBA caliber skills.
The two remaining Division 1 teams — Ball State (15-16, MAC) and Notre Dame (13-18, ACC) –– have tough hills to climb to reach a point beyond their records.
Purdue may finish the week as the sole state representative in the NCAA Championships. That’s a far cry from 2015, when five schools — Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Valparaiso carried state pride.
John O. Marlowe spent most of his career as a “pine-time” player, and was football's first DH (dummy holder) for Wabash College in the late 1970's. New to the art of the sports beat writer, Marlowe has spent forty years – and nearly $11,000 – following Indiana high school sports.