And Another Thing

JG columnist Ben Smith talks about IPFW's second-round game vs. Ohio ... er, VMI.

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Ben Smith

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If you look, you’ll find state of basketball great

– So it’s Saturday morning now, and I’ve spent most of the last two days watching basketball – when I let the dog out this morning, I could have sworn she executed a perfect crossover dribble – and I have yet to feel the shame I’m supposed to feel because the mother ship of hoops is nowhere to be found.

Which is to say: There isn’t a team from Indiana in the Big Dance.

No Indiana. No Purdue. No Notre Dame or Ball State or Indiana State or Butler, or Evansville, either.

Nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds and ragged curtains blowing in empty windows, that’s the Basketball State this weekend. Wofford and Coastal Carolina and Harvard and even sorry old Cal Poly made the show, but not the home of Larry and Oscar and John Wooden and Bob Himself Knight.

And yet, still, I feel no shame. Norman Dale may be so disgusted he’s ready to bench not only Rade but everyone else from Angola to Poseyville, but not me.

That’s because I know who Skylarr Shurn, Jenelle Wilson and Brooke Ridley are, and what they just did along with Kalah Baer, Emily Montgomery, Paige Frisch and a few others.

What they did, over there at Saint Francis, was go 38-0 and win the NAIA Division II national title, at the same time fellow Crossroads League member Indiana Wesleyan was winning the NAIA D-II men’s title. So it’s Indiana 2, the rest of America 0, in this allegedly lousy year for Indiana college hoops. The Saint Francis and Huntington men also qualified for the NAIA national tournament.

Know what else I know?

I know Notre Dame’s women are ranked second and not a bad bet to win an NCAA women’s title. I know that not one but both IPFW basketball teams reached the postseason for the first time since the school went Division I 14 years ago. And I know the men are still breaking new trail, having won a school-record 25 games and not only played in their first D-I postseason game, but won it.

Which is why they’re off to Lexington, Va., today to play VMI in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, unless the CIT has changed its mind yet again and decided to send the Mastodons back to Athens, Ohio, to play Ohio University instead, their original destination.

The point here is that it’s a lousy year for college basketball in the Basketball State only if you look at it through the prism of, A) males, and B) the marquee names. And so, yes, it’s a lousy year because Purdue wasn’t good, Notre Dame wasn’t good and Indiana was inconsistent and insufficiently equipped with desire and/or working brain cells at times – particularly, in the latter case, on the bench.

And so the Hoosiers go 17-15 and don’t even make the NIT because, in part, they lined their preseason schedule with goose down (And how dumb does letting the Kentucky game get away look now?). Then they turned down the CBI, because, in the fullness of their self-regard, they deemed it beneath a program of their stature.

So off the Hoosiers go to offseason conditioning, and suddenly there’s a giant pothole in the middle of the NCAA tournament. And that makes it a lousy March between the Ohio and Illinois state lines.

Except, you know, not here.

Here, it has been a great March, even a historic March. Because, as has been observed many times by people far more perceptive than I am, there is more than just one gender and one layer to basketball in Indiana.

So you mourn if you must. Here in these parts, we’ll raise another glass instead.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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