We’ve hammered home the realization that my alma mater Indiana University is not going to make the NCAA Tournament this month. That is unless the Hoosiers miraculously win the Big Ten Tournament. But I’m not holding my breath. Stevie Wonder has a better chance making it out of a maze.
But not all is lost. How you ask?
Because I’ve got a new team to root for – by proxy that is.
It’s IUPUI, otherwise known as Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis. I try to hold down my lunch stumbling across the Purdue portion of the name.
And on Tuesday night, IUPUI has a chance to punch its ticket to the Big Dance as the Jaguars play in the Summit League Championship versus Oakland (9 p.m., ESPN2). IUPUI has made the NCAA Tournament just once (back in 2003 when Kentucky beat them by 31). But who could forget coach Ron Hunter’s delirious celebration as he ran around the court, fell to his knees and squealed, “Thank you Jesus! Thank you Jesus!” (Can’t find a video link, sorry.)
Unfortunately, the Summit title game coincides with the Horizon League Championship featuring Butler (9 p.m., ESPN), Indianapolis’ darling. Which means in a basketball-mad city, it’ll mostly go unnoticed.
IUPUI basically gets no pub around Indianapolis. It’s somewhere between girls’ high school golf and seasonal fishing updates on the Indianapolis Star’s food chain. Two paragraphs is usually asking too much.
To watch Monday night’s semifinal versus Oral Roberts, my roommate (an IUPUI grad) and I had to watch the game on ESPN360.com. (Not the worst thing in the world). So I pulled out the laptop, plopped it on the living room table next to the Jaguars bobblehead and watched IUPUI build a 21-point second half lead only to squander it entirely and fall behind by one late in the contest. It was at this juncture that I considered myself a 2010 College Hoops Jinx. But the Jags got their act together and avoided perhaps the worst Championship Week collapse of all-time, pulling out a 69-65 win.
Our very own gambling expert, WiseGuyAction, actually bet against the locals. What a narc. Why he went against a school he’s rooted for in person is beyond me. Plus, IUPUI had won 13 of its last 15 games, and has two all-conference performers in senior Robert Glenn (19.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and sophomore Alex Young (18.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
Glenn can flat our soar and he showed his skywalking act twice against Oral Roberts, or the Fellacious Bobs, as we like to call them. And Young is a super-smooth local kid who makes scoring look easy. Ten of the 15 players on IUPUI’s roster hail from the Indianapolis-area. It’s a team the city should get behind, but doesn’t.
There’s not a better coach to root for in the NCAA than Hunter. It was Hunter who coached barefoot in 2008 to raise awareness for children in need of shoes. His efforts resulted in 40,000 pairs of shoes being sent to Africa.
Last season, he took his team to South America on a humanitarian trip bringing more shoes to those in need.
But in addition to being a man of great compassion, he’s also a borderline lunatic on the sidelines. Watching Hunter prowl the sideline is like watching a sailor on crank attempt semaphore. He’s nuts, but entertaining. In Monday’s win over Oral Roberts, Hunter even managed to provide some defensive help as his players trapped an opponent near IUPUI’s bench.
Hunter told his team he’d get a tattoo if the Jags win a bid to the NCAA Tournament. IUPUI’s championship game opponent, Oakland, won the regular season title with a 17-1 conference record. Oakland’s lone loss? A 78-54 beatdown at IUPUI’s home, The Jungle, a 1,215 capacity auxiliary gym which shares the building with the venue’s main attraction – the IU Natatorium (that’s fancy talk for really nice pool).
Hunter’s humanitarian efforts brought the school national attention, but he’s also managed to put a competitive product on the floor as well.
In 2008, star guard George Hill declared early for the NBA Draft and was taken No. 28 by San Antonio. Media members and NBA analysts were scrambling to figure out what the hell and where the hell IUPUI was. And when he’s not taking pictures of his wang, Hill is actually a damn good basketball player. Hill averages nearly 12 points a game for the Spurs and now with Tony Parker’s injury problems this season, he’ll be key to the team’s postseason hopes.
Who’d have thunk it? A guard from some school whose name looks like a news wire service is actually balling out in the NBA.
Had Hill returned for his senior season, the Jags probably would have made the NCAA Tournament last year. Instead, they struggled and finished a mediocre 16-14. But Hunter has IUPUI back in contention and if you can drag yourself away from “Lost” (like you seriously know what’s going on anyway) and flip over to ESPN2 because if the Jaguars win Tuesday night, there’s no telling what Ron Hunter might do.
The question is, what kind of tattoo does he get?