But Big 10 tourney leaves Hoosiers broken-hearted
The men’s Big 10 tournament featured rampant upsets, a miraculous Hail Mary buzzer-beater, an international buffet of halftime shows and, ultimately, thousands of broken-hearted Hoosiers, left in a dizzy mess of astonished anxiety and underachievement.
Neither IU nor Purdue would survive their first game, suffering improbable upsets to the Midwest’s weakest teams in front of riotous home-court crowds. The conference’s regular season champion Wisconsin Badgers nonchalantly carried away the ultimate prize, in a 61-48 spanking of Illinois.
The only statistic that salvaged a reasonable final contest was turnovers, as the Badgers philanthropically allowed the upset-minded Illini to compete for the first 20 minutes, by clumsily offering them a barrage of sloppy passes.
However, in the second half, the nation’s best defense sealed off the starry-eyed Illini in an airtight vacuum and ran up the score with thrifty shooting.
Despite the anticlimactic thud with which the tournament concluded, Illinois’ 10th-seeded (of 11) trek through the trenches was electric. With an improbable overtime win against the No. 2 seed Boilers on Friday night, in front of a sold-out and heavily gold-clad crowd, their inspired run ruined any chance of the heavily anticipated Indiana vs. Purdue semifinal. Less than 24 hours later they bafflingly rallied for their third upset in three days in front of Tony Dungy and his alma mater Minnesota Gophers, to become the first No. 10 seed in tournament history to reach the final.
IU, not to be outdone by their intrastate counterpart, narrowly edged out Purdue for the rivalry’s oaken bucket of disappointment. Having their anxious fingers greased by the sweaty nerves of new head coach Dan Dakich, the Hoosiers fell behind to Minnesota by nearly 20 points in the first half. They later surged back with a fiery crimson crowd behind them, but 7 percent three-point shooting and four missed free throws in the last five seconds of play provided Minnesota with the final, infinitesimal chance for a last-second game-winning shot. With 1.3 seconds left, the ball was slung the length of the court and landed securely in the hands of Blake Hoffarber — who, surrounded by a hoard of flailing Hoosiers, tossed a soft 14-foot jump shot toward an illuminated backboard as the buzzer sounded. The Gophers had crushed Indiana’s courageous comeback with an iron fist, 59-58, leaving the Hoosier faithful to file out of Conseco Fieldhouse in solemn disbelief.
By choking in their first round games, the Crimson and Gold did, however, successfully secure an extra two days of resting for the NCAA Tournament. After being ranked the entire season, Indiana’s reputation plummeted in the national perspective over the last week, and the selection committee disdainfully condemned them with a No. 8 seed. They will play Arkansas on Friday, for the rights to a discouraging match-up against No. 1 seed North Carolina … in Raleigh.
Purdue was given a slightly more generous No. 6 seed, and faces Baylor. Indiana will be represented by four teams total, with No. 7 seed Butler paired against South Alabama, and Notre Dame earning the state’s premium seeding as No. 5, taking on George Mason. So get out your dancin’ shoes and leave the porch light on for our boys; despite the misfortune of our big-state school heroes last weekend, Indiana still has a white-hot month of basketball to invest in.