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THE LAST WORD

No Indiana teams in NCAA tourney? How about women?

Saturday, March 22, 2014 - 12:01 am

The theme of the NCAA basketball tournament this week for those of us in this state has been the fact there are no Indiana teams represented in the men’s bracket for only the second time since it expanded to 32 teams in 1975.

The only other year during that span the Hoosier state was left out was 2005. And in 2004 the only state representative was Valparaiso. Indiana’s Hoosiers have now missed only nine tournaments in those 39 years, Purdue 14 and Notre Dame 17.

So some act as if there isn’t anything to root for, when, in fact, two Indiana teams are playing today in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament. Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed in its regional with a 32-0 record, opening today at Toledo against Robert Morris. And there is every chance the Irish could meet Indiana’s other representative, fourth-seeded Purdue, 21-8, in the Sweet 16 on March 29 at Notre Dame. The Boilermakers open against Akron today in West Lafayette.

And, of course, we’ve already had Saint Francis’ women’s team win the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship this week. And Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne’s men’s team is continuing play today against Virginia Military Institute in its first Division I postseason tournament, the CollgeInsider.com Tournament. Indiana State was the lone men’s team from Indiana to be invited to the NIT.

Still, the rarity of having no state representatives in the 68-team men’s NCAA Tournament this week is striking — especially in light of the success of recent years with four Indiana teams making the tourney in 2013, 2011, 2008 and 2007 and three in the field in 2012 and 2010.

It’s now happened in 21 total NCAA men’s tournaments since the first one in 1939. But those several years before 1975 were tournaments that ranged in size from eight teams at the beginning (through 1950) to 16 (1951-52) and from 22-25 through 1974.

Before 1975, only one team per conference could be in the field. The limited number of teams in those earlier years made it much more difficult to get into the tournament. In those 36 years, Notre Dame played in the most tournaments (10), Indiana played in six (winning in 1940 and 1953) and Butler played in one (coached by Tony Hinkle) in 1962.

Bob Knight’s second Indiana team made the Final Four in the 25-team 1973 tournament, made it into the 1975 field with probably his best team ever, losing in the Elite Eight to Kentucky, and came back to win it all the following year. The Hoosiers also won titles in 1981 and 1987, tying North Carolina for third-most wins ever. UCLA leads with 11. Kentucky is second with eight.

The 32-team field for the tournament increased to 40 in 1979, then 48 from 1980 to 1982, 52 in 1983 (with four play-in games), 53 in 1984 (with four play-in games) and then 64 from 1985 to 2000. From 2001 to 2010 there were 65 teams invited (including an opening-round game to determine whether Team No. 64 or No. 65 would play in the first round). Since 2011 there have been 68 teams (with four of those involved in play-in games).

Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.