It's that time of year again. A time when baseball is on the horizon and the warm Spring winds have begun to thaw the frost on the morning grass. But more than any of that, it's time for March Madness if you will. Or if your like me and you've been automatically been putting Dick Vitale on mute on sight since November, it's time for the NCAA Basketball Tournaments.
This year was especially kind to the state in that we've got a total of eight teams headed to the "Big Dance."
In the womens' bracket the Hoosier state provided the second seeded and Big Ten Champion Purdue Boilermakers who finished the season with a record of 26-5 overall. Also headed to the tournament is Notre Dame who got the No. 11 seed after going 19-10 this year. And finally, the third berth that was a tad unexpected, went to Valparaiso who earned their spot by winning the Mid-Continent tournament.
The Crusaders will be appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time and received a No. 15 seed overall.
On the mens' side, five squads will be headed to various sites across the country.
Of those teams, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame truly capitalized on a bit of early Saint Patrick's Day luck. Despite losing four of their final five games and being ousted in the opener of the Big East tourney they got a No. 5 seed and will get to play their first game close to home in Indianapolis. The Irish finished 22-9 overall this year.
The Indiana Hoosiers fought their way off the bubble late to earn a No. 7 seed and will head to Boston for their tournament opener after posting a 20-12 season.
Purdue made the dance despite struggling late in the season and dropping their Big Ten Tournament opener to Michigan State. The Boilermakers picked up a No. 9 seed and will travel to Birmingham, Alabama for their first round game.
Butler joins the Boilers in Birmingham after posting the most impressive record of the Indiana tourney teams.
The Bulldogs received a No. 12 seed after a 25-5 record overall and advanced to the Horizon Conference title game before falling to Wisconsin-Milwaukee who also made the tournament.
The most surprising team of all is the IUPUI Jaguars (20-13) who will make their tournament debut as the No. 16 seed and likely cannon fodder for top seed Kentucky. But how can anyone not get the warm and fuzzies when you see a group of young men receive their first NCAA invite. Plus, as an Indiana native, you get the bonus of seeing all the puzzled 'What in the heck is an IUPUI?' looks from basketball fans around the country.
A closer look at the state's first round opponents
As far as first round game's were concerned, the selection committee doomed at least one Hoosier womens' team when they selected the No. 2 seed Boilermakers to face Valparaiso in the first round.
The Boilers have won eight of their last 10 games and are led by Shereka Wright's 19.4 points per game (ppg.) and 6.2 rebounds per game (rpg.). The team isn't overly tall, though they do boast 6'5 senior Mary Jo Noon who averages 10.9 ppg. and 4.7 rpg., but the Boilermakers have the experience and talent to make a run to the Final Four this season. The 5'10 Wright and 5'6 junior guard Erika Valek provide a potent 1-2 punch and Beth Jones has 64 3-pointers this year.
Purdue faces a Crusader squad that has an extremely bright future considering they have just one senior on the squad in Jeanette Gray who is second on the team in scoring at 11.3 ppg. and tops with 7.3 rpg. Junior guard Suzie Hammel averages 11.5 ppg. for a balanced squad that has eight freshmen or sophomores who have played in eight or more games this year.
The Crusaders are also a dangerous squad due to the fact that they rarely rely on just one person to score. Seven different players average six or more points per game.
The Fighting Irish will get Arizona in the first round of the NCAA East Regional this year. The No. 22 Wildcats finished off a 13-5 Pac-10 record with a loss to No. 9 Stanford in the conference title game. Their 22-8 mark was based largely on the play of a pair of talented sophomores.
Six-foot-five center Shawntinice Polk leads the team with 17.5 ppg. and 10.6 rpg. along with 2.6 blocks per contest. Her dominating presence is fortified by 5'6 guard Dee-Dee Wheeler who averages 16.8 ppg. and 2.1 steals per game. When you throw in Krista Warren's 11.7 ppg. and Aime Grzyb's 10.8 ppg. you can see how impressive a team the Wildcats are overall.
Arizona will meet a Notre Dame team that is lead by Jacqueline Batteast's 14.9 ppg and Courtney LaVere's 12.5 ppg. They also get double digit production from Alica Ratay (12.3 ppg.) Batteast and LaVere are the top rebounders for a team that won seven of their final 10.
This game will highlight two teams who have a bevy of young talent. With Polk and Wheeler on the Arizona side and 6'2 sophomore Batteast and 6'3 freshman LaVere on the other, the two squads have a bright future.
Though it is rare that any womens' basketball teams outside of the Tennessee's and UConn's receive publicity nationally. The Hoosier state appears ready to make another strong run in the next few years.
-- Tomorrow: A preview of the Indiana men's teams.