A year ago this day was our last in Portland, Oregon with a farewell Chinese dinner at Ling’s Garden downstairs in our apartment building. We have yet to find a Chinese favorite here in Venice. Last night, we tried Burgundy Square downtown and made the short walk to Kilwin’s for pralines & cream ice cream. There was not a concert in the park as expected so we drove home.
Our neighbors are hosting a brunch this morning, but the rest of my day will probably be devoted to basketball. Two IU basketball recruits are playing in the high school nationals, followed by the Final Four from New Orleans. The Duke vs. North Carolina match-up is getting the most publicity with Coach K’s retirement and the fact that country artist, Eric Church, cancelled a concert to attend this historic game. It caused a lot of controversy with fans that don’t understand his allegiance to the Tar Heels, but he did agree to do a freebee as a make-good. If he we truly a basketball fan, he would have scheduled his tour the night of the Final Four, so in my opinion he didn’t have much faith in his team in the first place.
While we were headed for ice cream last night, I spotted a guy in an Indiana t-shirt, so I asked him where he was from. “Vacationing from Fort Wayne,” he indicated, but when I told him that I worked for WMEE Radio there years ago, the conversation abruptly ended. I guess they just wanted to enjoy their ice cream and didn’t really care to reciprocate. So much for Hoosier Hospitality.
I now have a streak of 10 in Wordle, my latest word game challenge. It was just a matter of time before peer pressure drove me to try it. I barely solved this morning’s puzzle with a choice of three letters that could have each been correct. I FOUND the right one, a last second gasp similar to a game winning tourney shot. Speaking of basketball, I’ve still alive in the fantasy pool with Kansas – or will my small investment end up being “dust in the wind?” It’s been 35-years now since IU won the NCAA Championship in 1987 on Keith Smart’s buzzer beater. It’s also been twenty years since they reached the final game. Anymore, we’re just lucky to get into the Big Dance. It was also the year that Reagan and Gorbachev met in Washington.
We drove to Anna Marie Island and had lunch with Indy friends at the Beach House Restaurant. On the way there, a rock hit the windshield of my wife’s Lexus and cracked the glass. It’s just another hassle to deal with as I call the insurance company about my homeowners policy, as well. Mondays are probably a busy day in that business following a weekend of mishaps. In addition, I will call my sister about our plans to visit our cousins tomorrow in Bonita Springs. With a damaged car, a son who is now separated from his wife, and an unvaccinated sister, I’m not really in the mood for another drive. I do have to pick up my grandson this afternoon, also disrupting what might normally be “Matinee Monday,” It’s the last few days of our annual passes that will hopefully get renewed.
We did attend a rather pleasant concert last night with acoustic guitarist Cliff Erickson. It was a free show in our neighborhood events center. He was a good entertainer who got us old folks singing along to country and rock hits from the past, and ended with a couple original numbers. I took a call from my son in the middle of the show to make plans for a discussion about his future plans and to arrange a steak dinner with the grandkids tomorrow night. He also needs to help me hang three overhead light fixtures. Other than his marital ordeal, we have about three weeks of routine home life before we head to Singer Island. My wife is back to bridge club, while Tally spent the morning with her at the Dog Park. I’ll watch another episode of Winning Time this morning and a new season of Yellowstone starting tonight. Peace!
After nine days of entertaining guests, life is back to normal. I enjoyed seeing all my friends and showing off the Venice area, but I’m exhausted. Too much food and wine has me worried about stepping on the scale. Running with this extra weight only adds to this daily challenge, while swimming has been sporadic during this disruption of the routine. I’ve been to the ballpark, played pickle ball, been to a blues festival, ran a 5k race, went on an eco-tour, frequented numerous restaurants/bars, sunned on the beach, sampled wine, and sat in front of the TV watching tournament basketball. In the process, I’ve also celebrated an IU victory, suffered through a miserable season-ending loss, and went to a Beauty and the Beast performance. This morning I slept in a bit, struggled through my run, and got back to swimming a few laps.
It’s another day of round-ball action, as #3 Purdue battles #6 Texas for a spot in the Sweet 16 and a chance to spoil the Cinderella run of the St. Peter’s Peacocks. The Boilers knocked out Yale while the Longhorns overtook Virginia Tech. In other games of conference interest, Michigan upset Tennessee yesterday, while today’s slate for the other BIG survivors shows Illinois playing Houston, Ohio State meeting Villanova, Michigan State facing Duke, and Wisconsin tackling Iowa State. It’s a BIG day of basketball!
I’m back at the computer keyboard, banging out the highlights of the past week with friends. I missed a few events of the seventies in the process, with 1978 as the year smallpox was eradicated and 1979 was when the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan, just like current Soviet aggression in the Ukraine. I hope we can soon see peace and the end of Covid, as they both continue to haunt my life with higher prices and social restrictions. Last night at the theatre, a group of neighbors were having a conversation during the intermission. They had all lowered their masks for the discussion, but the guy next to them complained to me when I did the same. It’s rare when a Florida venue has a mandatory mask policy, but this was done to protect the unvaccinated children and apparently was part of the actor contracts. Yet, they weren’t wearing masks on stage. This didn’t make sense to me, along with $4.09 for a gallon of gas, but clearly told me that things were definitely not back to normal!
Parker Stewart hit a three in the first minute of the St. Mary’s game to start the Indiana scoring. Sadly, these were the only points he would get all night, and to make matters worse more than two other shooters, Miller Kopp and Rob Phinisee, who both failed to score. Overall, the team showed their exhaustion and only put 53-points on the scoreboard. St. Mary’s went 10-21 from behind the arc and racked up 82-points in victory. This was Indiana’s worst NCAA tournament loss ever, eclipsing the 86-61 drubbing from St. John’s in 1999.
The “Party’s Pooped” on the Hoosiers, as they might have been better off not getting in the tournament at all. The first Mike Woodson season ends on a sour note and tired legs after five games in eight days. Talk of next year begins to slowly trickle into the conversation as players begin to contemplate the future. Will they come back or move on? What will happen with Kristian Lander who got very little playing time but scored the last bucket of the year? Will Trayce Jackson Davis turn pro? What about other players with remaining eligibility like Race Thompson, Rob Phinisee, Tamar Bates, and Anthony Leal? Will disappointing transfers like Miller Kopp and Parker Stewart find new homes or call it quits?
The NCAA tournament goes on without them. Marquette lost to North Carolina by 32, making the IU drubbing somehow look better. All the Saints won on St. Patrick’s Day, including the ultimate upset when #15 seed St. Peter’s beat #2 Kentucky. #5 Iowa who had last second luck against Indiana in the BIG Tourney failed to replicate this good fortune against #12 Richmond, bringing back painful memories of 1988 when the Spiders knocked off defending NCAA champ IU in the first round. Rutgers lost to #11 Notre Dame in one of the other play-in games, to give the Irish the opportunity to upend #6 Alabama and keep their St. Patrick’s Party going. Three of the nine BIG Ten teams had already bit the dust, as then finally the other 6 found a way to win their initial games, maintaining the league’s integrity. IU’s party was over!
On Selection Sunday, Indiana was announced as the #12 seed, ending an embarrassing NCAA tournament draught. However, with the 68-team format, they had to travel to Dayton for a play-in game against Wyoming. It was almost an insult to have made the field, but then forced to prove that they deserved to be in the 64-team bracket. To make matters worse, they would have to then travel cross-country to Portland, Oregon to face #5 St. Mary’s with little preparation time. As fate would have it, they also had issues with the plane and didn’t arrive until morning. If they could somehow get by the Gaels, then a third game in five days against UCLA would be the reward. So, a tired but healthy Hoosier squad arrived at the Moda Center in the Rose City.
Meanwhile in Dayton, the Wyoming Cowboys proved to be a tough match-up. It was a low scoring affair as expected with the score only 13-8 with 8:33 remaining until halftime and IU with the edge. At the horn, it was 30-25 as the teams headed for the locker room. Eleven Cowboy turnovers kept the Hoosiers in the game despite a typical poor shooting performance. Trayce Jackson Davis was dominant inside, ultimately ending the game as high-scorer with 29-points. Wyoming cut the margin to three after the half but could come no closer, as IU stretched the lead to ten at the 60 mark and went on to win 66-58.
The real dancing starts on St. Patrick’s Day, once the IU players hopefully get a nap. St. Mary’s is the favorite with a 25-7 record, including a 10-point victory over #1 seed Gonzaga. Wisconsin was a common opponent that beat both schools – twice for IU – but each was a winner over Notre Dame. With the play-in victory, the Hoosiers won three tough games down the stretch to finally stake an NCAA Tourney claim. Today, they’ll need the luck of the Irish.
1976 was the last year when a team went undefeated all the way through the NCAA tournament – “Your Indiana Hoosiers.” It’s a record that has held now for 46 years, but the Cream and Crimson have also gone through hard times since then, especially the last 20 years since they’ve been in the championship game and 25-years since they’ve won it all. It’s been frustrating right up to these last few games, feeling now that a dark cloud has finally lifted with their play in the BIG Tournament. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted against Iowa, we still accomplished what we all wanted – a ticket to the “Big Dance.” We’ll know for sure after the Selection Show, but let’s reflect on all the really bad streaks we stopped this year:
Four consecutive losses against Illinois.
Five consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Eight consecutive seasons without a Big Ten Tournament Semifinals appearance.
Nine consecutive losses against Purdue.
Nine consecutive losses against Michigan.
19 consecutive years without multiple wins in a single Big Ten Tournament.
Granted, Wisconsin only added to our frustrations this season with two more close looses. Plus, Iowa ended our tournament run on a last second prayer. We even hit 60 first, but “The Rule” has some exceptions that make it interesting. We could have been playing Purdue for all the marbles. Wouldn’t that have been a treat for the basketball fans in the state of Indiana?
Would of…could of…should of – the story of this season.
IU certainly didn’t get any breaks from the selection committee. They are barely in the field as a twelve seed with a play-in game against Wyoming in Dayton, followed by a long flight to Portland if they win, and a match-up with St. Mary’s. If they somehow get by these hurdles, UCLA lurks in the shadows. It could come down to three games in five days for the short-handed Hoosiers who might be without Galloway and Geronimo. Regardless, it’s time to dance!
The Michigan game was like the changing of the conference guard, as last year’s BIG Ten Coach of the Year returned from an embarrassing suspension to the additional disappointment of a loss in his first game back. The boos were prevalent at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Michigan had won the last 7 games, dating back to February of 2017 in Bloomington and Coach Tom Crean, who was just fired at Georgia. Archie Miller couldn’t get the job done either, much like his woes against Purdue and Wisconsin, to mention a couple of Miller curses. Woodson is now in a position to become coach of the year and maybe the last two decades, with regard to Indiana success. Maybe the conference was premature in naming Greg Gard? What a turnaround we’ve witnessed!
The ILL-INI chant is very annoying, making me ILL, especially after four straight victories over the Hoosiers. The earlier meeting this season in friendly Simon Skjodt was anything but that, as the Blue & Orange battered IU down the stretch 74-57 and started a 5-game February skid. Then came March and two more critical losses to burst the bubble. “Suddenly,” as Don Fisher exclaimed things turned around in the most unexpected place – the BIG Tourney. Speaking of curses, this one dates back to Coach Knight. It did not exist when Mike Woodson was a player, so this was his first experience.
Michigan was first to fall and last year’s winner and this year’s #1 seed, Illinois, was the next victim. A friend texted me when IU hit 60 first but only with a 1-point lead with 3:23 on the clock. It was Trayce Jackson-Davis who got them there at the free throw line, on his way 21-points. Kofi Cockburn outscored him by two, but he held his own against another All- BIG center for the second game in a row, after being outplayed in their previous match-ups.
The game was a classic example of the “Magic of 60,” where IU got there first and held on to win. As I asked my friend who texted me at the 60-mark, “Do you believe in Magic?” He responded, “It’s the Rule of 60,” and once again held up.”
Next up high-scoring Iowa and another shot at revenge. They were the one team where Archie Miller had their number, beating them twice last year and once more in 2019-2020. The ILL-INI chant is now less annoying. Go IU!
It’s the last chance to make the Big Dance, as the BIG tournament continues in Indianapolis. IU was the #9 seed, playing Michigan for the second time this season. Both teams are on the tournament bubble, although the Wolverines are currently in while the Hoosiers are the first team out. Michigan head coach Juwan Howard has been reinstated to once again lead them to victory, as he did in Ann Arbor 80-62. At halftime in that game, it was 38-30, as Hunter Dickinson put them over the 60-mark with 9:29 remaining and a 14-point lead. IU finally got to 60 at 4:07 and soon cut the lead to 11, but never got closer. Dickenson finished with 25 and 9 rebounds while Trayce Jackson Davis was a miserable 6-13 from the free throw line and totaled 17 in the losing effort, overshadowed by Caleb Houston’s 19. The Hoosiers get a second chance for victory and hopefully will play better defense, especially against the three. Michigan was a sizzling 11-17 behind the arc. They also need more offense from Race Thompson and better three-point shooting than 5-19, as was the case in that first match-up.
If the Hoosiers don’t prevail against Michigan, they deserve nothing better than the NIT and a chance to play some teams outside the conference where the haven’t been able to effectively compete down the stretch or on the road. Indy should be like a second home for the Hoosiers where they beat NCAA Tourney bound Notre Dame earlier this season. Can the Candy Stripes do it again today?
It was another Tale of Two Halves, but this time it was a Hoosier Happy ending. A massive comeback and a 46-point second half made up for a lot of letdowns this season. The Wolverines easily reached 60 at the 12:54 mark with a 17-point bulge, but only scored 9 more the entire game, allowing IU to ultimately pass them 63-62 with 5:32 remaining. In that 7-minute span, relentless defense allowed only two free throws by Eli Brooks and caused 6 turnovers. Hunter Dickinson had only one bucket the entire second half and 15 overall, ten less than the first time around. Trayce Jackson-Davis led all scorers with 24, followed by Xavier Johnson with 17. Michigan was 6-20 from three point range, a vast improvement for IU’s perimeter defense since the previous match-up. It’s now on to the next round against Illinois and another chance to impress the selection committee with more revenge. Final: IU 74 Michigan 69.