There was a great deal of speculation throughout the weeks and months leading up to Sunday that Indiana’s path to the Final Four would go through Indianapolis. The Hoosiers were ranked No. 1 for a good portion of the year, and they figured to be a safe bet for the Midwest region’s top seed.
But when the brackets were revealed Sunday evening, the Hoosiers were sent East. They won’t be playing in Lucas Oil Stadium this postseason.
Why? Well, most likely because of their loss to Wisconsin in Saturday’s Big Ten tournament semifinal in Chicago. The Hoosiers lost, and Louisville won the Big East tournament, giving them the top overall seed in the Big Dance.
“Probably,” guard Victor Oladipo said when asked if Saturday’s loss cost Indiana the Midwest region. “But I can’t go back and change time, I can’t go back and change the past. All I can do is look forward to the future.”
The Hoosiers’ path will first take them to Dayton and then to Washington D.C. if they advance to the second weekend.
“I expected our road to be kind of rough,” said senior forward Christian Watford. “That’s how it’s been since I’ve been here, so why would it change now?”
Ending up in the East could be a blessing in disguise for the Hoosiers. Most national analysts agree the Midwest region – which includes Louisville, Duke, Michigan State and St. Louis – is by far the toughest in the Tournament.
Plus, if the Hoosiers were in Indianapolis, they would be expected to win and advance to the Final Four. The pressure would be significant, and Indiana doesn’t always play well as a favorite.
“I feel like we play better on the road anyway, to be quite honest with you,” Watford said. “Our mentality is just a little different. We go in with our underdog mentality that we’ve had for so long.”
Christian Watford, Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo met with the media on Sunday evening at Assembly Hall to discuss the Hoosiers’ selection as the No. 1 seed in the East region for the NCAA Tournament.
Watch and listen to their comments in the embedded media players below:
The Big Ten Conference released the annual All-Big Ten teams this evening live on the Big Ten Network and several Indiana players were among the honorees.
Michigan’s Trey Burke was named the conference’s player of the year, edging Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. But Oladipo was named the defensive player of the year and was also on the all-Big Ten first team, along with Zeller, Burke, Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas. On the media’s first team, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft replaced Hardaway Jr.
Oladipo and Burke were unanimous picks for the all-conference first team. Oladipo and Craft were unanimous selections on the all-defensive team.
Indiana’s Will Sheehey was named the sixth man of the year, Christian Watford was on the all-Big Ten third team, and Yogi Ferrell was on the all-conference freshman team and also an all-Big Ten honorable selection by the media. Jordan Hulls was named all-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches.
Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan was named the league’s coach of the year by both the coaches and media.
Derek Elston was IU’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honoree.
Everything was assembled for Indiana to have the party of the year on Tuesday night. The Hoosiers were playing for sole possession of a Big Ten title — one they hadn’t won since 1993 — and against the very team they manhandled just weeks ago at Ohio State. Plus, they were prepared to honor their three seniors, a class of guys responsible for bringing the Indiana program back.
Indiana still honored those seniors after Tuesday night’s game, and the Hoosiers can still win a conference title outright by beating Michigan on Sunday. But the celebration was mostly ruined by Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes on Tuesday night.
Ohio State 67, Indiana 58. And suddenly, the Hoosiers aren’t a lock for a No. 1 seed any longer.
“This is the epitome of bittersweet tonight,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “We’re trying to celebrate what these guys have earned, and at the same time, we didn’t earn it tonight.”
Added senior forward Derek Elston: “It felt like too many mental errors were stacking on top of each other. When you dwell on one of those, you’re just not playing your game anymore. I think that’s what happened tonight.”
The Buckeyes are a very good defensive team, but they sometimes struggle because their lack of consistent scorers behind Fort Wayne native Deshaun Thomas. When they get other guys to score, though, they are capable of being one of the nation’s top 10 teams.
On Tuesday night, it wasn’t just Thomas (who finished with 18 points on 17 shots). Craft, Ohio State’s pesky point guard, played well offensively and very much dominated whoever was matched up against him. Craft had 16 points on an efficient 7-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“We wanted to keep the lane covered on Craft, and he made some tough shots,” Crean said. “Those are the same shots he didn’t make against us [before]. He’s so good because he’s really looking for two things. He’s looking for an open lane, and then if you converge, he’s looking to hit somebody.”
Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson also made solid offensive contributions, combining for 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
“There were some stretches there where we would play really good ‘D’ for the whole shot clock, and they’d get a bucket right at the end,” said senior guard Jordan Hulls. “Whether Craft hit one off the backboard or a pull-up jumper or whatever the case was, offensive rebound, we just didn’t play with that edge that we need to have.”