Ron Hunter belly flopped to celebrate when his team qualified
for the NCAA tournament, so imagine what the IUPUI coach might do
if the Jaguars win in the first round.
But before Hunter has to bang up his knees or scrape his elbows
with more midcourt machinations, IUPUI would have to have pull off
a floor-shaking upset in the Midwest Regional.
Top-seeded Kentucky, winner of 23 straight, a team so confident
it didn't cut down the nets or watch the selection show Sunday
after winning the SEC tournament, presents the most imposing
challenge the Jaguars of the Mid-Continent Conference could face.
"We get a chance to play a great program like Kentucky. It's
just awesome,'' Hunter said Sunday when the 16th-seeded Jaguars
found out who'd they face in their first-ever trip to the
"Wouldn't it be nice to be the first 16 seed to ever knock off
a No. 1 seed?'' the exuberant coach asked. "People don't know how
good these kids are.''
Everyone knows how good Kentucky (29-3) is -- unbeaten in
regular-season conference play, no losses since Dec. 28, and on the
country's most impressive roll entering Friday's opener in
"We only want to cut down one set of nets,'' Wildcats guard
Keith Bogans said, meaning the ones at the Final Four in New
Orleans on April 7.
"We're trying to play every game like it's the national
championship,'' forward Erik Daniels said. "We don't want to lose
and go home. We're on a roll and we don't want to stop. We want to
get back here to New Orleans.''
Another SEC team, Alabama, went in the opposite direction, but
still got in. After a 9-0 start and a brief No. 1 ranking, the
Crimson Tide faltered, losing 8 of its final 11, including the SEC
tournament first-rounder to Vanderbilt.
Still, the strength of schedule got the Tide (17-11) a No. 10
seed and a first-round matchup against No. 7 Indiana (20-12), which
made it to the national championship game a year ago.
"No matter who we play, they won't know us,'' Indiana coach
Mike Davis said after a tough one-point loss to Illinois in the
semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. "Our goal is to go out and
win six games.''
The Alabama-Indiana winner could run into another team playing
its best ball at the right time -- second-seeded Pitt, fresh off a
victory in the Big East tournament and a winner of nine straight.
The Panthers, behind Brandin Knight and a tough defense, face
Wagner, winner of the Northeast Conference tournament, in the
opener Friday at Boston.
Kentucky's second-round opponent at Nashville could be Oregon,
winner of the Pac-10 tournament, or Utah, the regular-season
champion of the Mountain West led by the colorful coach who always
fills out his sweater -- Rick Majerus.
Five years ago, Kentucky beat Utah in the NCAA championship game
to give Tubby Smith a title in his first year with the Wildcats.
On Thursday in Indianapolis, No. 3 Marquette plays No. 14 Holy
Cross, and No. 6 Missouri faces No. 11 Southern Illinois.
Marquette, behind versatile Dwyane Wade, won the Conference USA
regular season, but was stunned in the tournament opener by UAB.
Holy Cross won the Patriot League tournament and is playing in its
third straight NCAA tournament.
Missouri got an at-large berth after the Tigers' massive
comeback fell short in a 49-47 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12
tournament final Sunday, giving coach Quin Snyder a trip to the
NCAAs in each of his four years. It is Missouri's fifth straight
Southern Illinois, making it second straight appearance under
coach Bruce Weber, won two games in the NCAA tournament last
season. The Salukis captured the Missouri Valley regular season
before being routed by Creighton in the tournament finals, but were
also picked as an at-large.
"I was trying to go through my mind what I was going to tell
them if we did not get in,'' Weber said. "It was kind of a relief.
We had felt confident all week that we were deserving of getting
in. We hoped the last game didn't kill us.''
At Spokane, Big Ten regular-season winner Wisconsin, seeded
fifth, plays Big Sky winner and No. 12 Weber State; and No. 4
Dayton, which won the Atlantic 10 tournament on its home floor,
faces WAC tournament winner Tulsa, the 13th seed.
The Badgers captured their first outright Big Ten title since
1947 this season after sharing it a year ago, but were ousted in
their tournament opener by Ohio State.