Tourney Path tough, but IU doesn’t mind

Tourney Path tough, but IU doesn’t mind

By Bob Hammel, The Herald-Telephone

March 9, 1981

From the March 9, 1981 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

The NCAA’s Tournament Committee scattered to its homelands to hear the broadside of criticism that always greets selection of teams for the national basketball tournament.

The howls are from the omitted, usually, and the fingers are pointed to the teams whose qualifications for making a championship field look a little questionable.

But Indiana got in without need of committee judgement, winning the Big Ten’s automatic berth in the tourney by winning the championship.

And nobody around IU is quibbling about tournament turkeys, because the Hoosiers are pointed at a tourney path that promises, if they and all others can be successful enough to make it: Maryland, Kentucky, DePaul, Louisiana State, Virginia. That seems challenging enough.

There are some surprises in comparative numbers. The Big Ten’s claim to national eminence has been irrefutable of late,but the league wound up with only three of its members in the 48-team field while their chief rivals for national recognition, the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences, got four teams in each.

But this was an unusual year in the Big Ten. A year ago, when the conference put four teams in the field and the teams that finished third and fourth in the Big Ten finished the same way in the national tournament (Purdue and Iowa), there was a pack at the top all the way. Indiana eventually led tha balanced league at 13-5, with Ohio State 12-6, Purdue 11-7 and Iowa 10-8. This year, only the Three-I teams that split themselves away from the rest of the league early in the race finished the conference season with distinguished records. Purdue was 10-8, alone in fourth place, but the Boilermakers paid for a sub-par preconference schuduale that led them without a significant victory and exposure to only one team that eventually made the field (Tennesse, which whipped the Boilers at Knoxville, 78-69). This was the year that the conference brought in the computer to give it digested data on things like scheduale strength, and Purdue’s lineup of Colorado State, Loyola-Marymount, Butler, Oklahoma, Providence, Tulsa (the other team that beat the Boilermakers). Georgia Tech and Florida worked against Purdue qualification – although the Boilers’ 17-10 overall record was only one game below the one that got them in the field a year ago.

The computer’s job was to help straighten out the qualifications of the 22 teams that didn’t get into the field automatically, as conference representatives determined through regular season standings (the Big Ten, Pacific-10 and Western conferences among the last of a shrinking group there) or post-season tournaments.

Minnesota was in great shape for conclusion, until the Gophers took themselves out with last-weekend losses at Michigan (by a crushing 8-67 score) and Wisconsin. Gopher coach Jim Dutcher was among the first to complain about the at-large selections – on “behalf of Purdue, not us,” Dutcher emphasized in calling the three-team entry “a real slap in the face to the Big Ten.”

It wasn’t a slap, it was a recognition that was inevitable. The Big Ten teams – Minnesota the most notable example – that didn’t make it took themselves out of the national championship chase with mediocre play.

Maryland, the team Indiana likely will meet in its first tournament game, had some struggling moments of its own during the season, as did IU. But, like the Hoosiers, Lefty Dreisell’s Terrapins put some ompressive late-season figures on the board.

The most striking score amidst Maryland’s 20-9 record was the 85-62 thumping of regular-season league champion Virginia in the ACC’s tournament semifinals.

That advanced Maryland to the finals againse North Carolina, and Dean Smith’s club won 61-60.

Two week’s before the tourney, Maryland also dumped a Top Ten team, Wake Forest, 94-80.

Maryland and Indiana wound up with three common opponents : Clemson and North Carolina from the ACC and Notre Dame.

IU lost to all three: Notre Dame 68-66 at South Bend, North Carolina 65-56 at Chapel Hill and Clemson 58-57 at Honolulu.

Maryland swept Clemson in conference play, 68-62 on the road and 72-70 at home; lost three times to North Carolina, 77-66 at Chapel Hill and 76-63 at Marylabd and in the tournament game, and lost to Notre Dame, 73-70, at Maryland.

The Terps have a Thursday night game at Dayton with Tennessee-Chattanooga (21-8), one of the teams that raises eyebrows with its NCAA inclusion. However, the Moccasins did share the regular-season champion-ship in the Southern Conference and won the league’s tournament to get in. Indiana ran into a Southern champion. Furman, in the 1978 NCAA tournament and barely got through, 63-62.

From the March 9, 1981 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

Hoosier coach Bob Knight made it clear he’s hoping for better tournament play this year than last year, when the Hoosiers had to win their last six games – the final one on national television, for everything, against Ohio State, and stretched into overtime to heighten the toll. “We didn’t play very well in either tournament game,” Knight said.

This year, the Hoosiers operated with less tension down the stretch, winnung the championship when it became available to them and doing it with some of their most efficient play of the year.

But throughout the last few weeks, there was little doubt the Hoosiers were headed for tournament.

The situation this year most closely approximates 1973, the first year a Knight team at IU made the NCAA. That time, two last-week losses by erstwhile leader Minnesota opened the door to the Hoosiers, who capitalized fully on their opportunity by winning not only the Big Ten championship but also the Mideast Regional.

The Hoosiers will rest a couple of days this time, then begin to work again with the complicated process of having to prepare for one of two teams – their opponent uncertain until Maryland and Tennessee-Chattanooga meet in Dayton Thursday night.

Time of the Hoosiers’ first game is equally uncertain. NBC-TV has until 9 a.m. Friday to decide how to line the teams up. All that is known is that Indiana is to play in the first game at Dayton sometime Saturday afternoon and DePaul, likely to close the season No. 1-ranked, is to play the second game. If NBC wants, even that order may be altered.

But the games will be played and the Mideast Regional shaping up at IU March 20 and 22 will be powerful.

The new season is here.