Three-I League figures to get NCAA spots

Three-I League figures to get NCAA spots

by Bob Hammel, Monday Herald-Telephone

March 2, 1981

Iowa, Indiana and Illinois probably have removed the last doubts about their NCAA inclusion now, and they head into the last week of the Big Ten season ready to settle the league’s order of finish.

Iowa is the team with all things going for it.

The Hawkeyes have a one-game lead with two games left. They get an extra assist from a final-week schedule that sends its two closest chasers against each other – Indiana playing at Illinois Thursday night (8:05, Ch. 4).

Iowa plays that night at Michigan State, setting up the possibility the Hawkeyes could clinch a clear-cut championship before the 18-game league schedule gets to uts final round.

If it’s not over by then, Indiana will be in a position of knowing just what it’s playing for before beginning its final game at Michigan State. The Spartans play their Saturday home games at night (8 o’clock starting time, no television for the IU game), and the games of the other two contenders will be played in the afternoon – Iowa at Ohio State as the league’s TV game of the week (3 p.m., Ch. 2, 13) and Northwestern at Illinois.

NCAA tournament bids go out the next day, Sunday, and tournament play begins a few days later.

The unseeded 32 teams in the 48-team field will play in first round games Thursday night, March 12 (at Providence, Dayton, Texas and UCLA) or Friday night, March 13 (at Charlotte, N.C., Coliseum, Alabama, Wichita State or Texas-El Paso). The 16 survivors from those games will meet the 16 seeded teams on Saturday or Sunday on the same sites to pic the field for the four regionals – including the Mideast at IU March 20 and 22.

There’s an obvious advantage to being seeded – one less game required. That’s part of the prize that is at stake for the Big Ten’s Three-I teams in the final week.

All are expected to be prominent in the new week’s polls – the ones that come out Tuesday and will be the last before the Tournament Committee begins its final deliberations Friday.

Iowa cracked the Top Ten in both polls last week, and the Hawkeyes may clim a spot or two from their eighth-place slotting in both polls. Three teams rated above the Hawkeyes lost during the week – LSU (second in both polls) to Kentucky, Virginia, (third in both) to Wake Forest and Utah (seventh in both) to Wyoming. Seventh appears likely for Iowa this week.

Illinois was 14th in both polls last week, and Indiana was 15th in the United Press International coaches’ poll and 16th in the Associated Press Poll of writers and broadcasters.

Illinois lost its Thursday night game at Minnesota last week to fall out of a second-place tie and, in all probablility, lose some poll standing.

Other teams above IU that lost last week were Tennessee (10th and 12th, AP listed first) to Georgia, Wake Forest (12th and 11th) to North Carolina State, UCLA (13th) to Oregon State and Brigham Young (15th and 19th) to Wyoming. Indiana seems likely to move to 12th or 13th in this week’s listings.

The NCAA also is using a computerized rating as an additional assistance, and that figures to benefit Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference teams, whose won-lost records take a beating in conference play.

Any benefit Iowa, Indiana or Illinois would get from the computer would be a factor only in seeding. It could be the key to getting it at all for Minnesota and Purdue, the only other Big Ten teams apparently in the picture after a week of play that left only those five with .500 or better records in conference play.

Minnesota advanced to a tie for fourth place with Purdue at 9-7 in conference play, and the Gophers have a significant edge over Purdue in non-conference games. Minnesota went 8-1 on a schedule that included North Carolina (the Gophers won by 16 on a neutral court), Louisville (Minnesota won by 6 at Louisville) and Marquette (the only team to beat minnesota before Big Ten play began). purdue was 7-2 in non-conference games, losing to Tennessee and Tulsa with no ranked teams among to Boilermakers’ victims.

Of the top five teams, only Illinois has any home games left.

Iowa, however, actually has a better league record on the road (6-1, losing only at Illinois) than at home (7-2, losses taken there from Ohio State and Minnesota).

Indiana is 4-3 on the road, going to Illinois, and 8-1 at home, the best home-court mark of any team in a year notable for the frequency of winning by road teams.

Going into the final week, road teams have won 32 of the 80 games, a .400 record that is well ahead of the usual league pace.

Illinois can match Indiana’s 8-1 home-court record by beating the Hoosiers and Northwestern this week. All seven teams below the Three-I teams have lost at least three times at home this year.

Indiana pulled one of the league’s early-season surprises by beating Illinois at the Hoosiers’ Assembly Hall, 78-61, on the first Saturday of Big Ten play. Hoosier forward Ted Kitchel had 40 points in that game, including a league-record 18-for-18 at the performance at the free-throw line.

Last year, Illinois supplied the nadir of the Hoosier season by routing the Hoosiers, 89-68m at Champaign – the last game before Mike Woodson’s return and the six-game winning streak that carried the Hoosiers to the 1980 league championship.

Iowa is riding an eight-game winning streak at the moment. The only one longer in the last five years was a 9-game Michigan State’s 1979 national champions put together when they were on the brink of being eliminated from the championship field.

Ohio State won eight in a row starting the 1978-79 Big Ten season. Indiana added two victories at the start this year to run its two-year string to eight.

All the streaks emphasize the modern wonder of Big Ten play: the two straight 18-0 years Indiana had in 1974-75 and 1975-76 in fashioning a 37-game conference winning streak that is 10 beyond any other streak ever put together in the 76 years of Big Ten play.