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Thursday, May 26, 2022

IU basketball heads to Dayton to play Wyoming in the First Four East Region

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BLOOMINGTON – Time and time again, as his team came out of the bubble this week in Indianapolis, IU coach Mike Woodson pretended to ignore the Hoosiers’ postseason prospects.

He chuckled when asked about Indiana’s NCAA tournament chances, suggesting that as a longtime NBA coach, he’s still learning what makes a good pick Sunday resume.

“Until the committee says Indiana is going to the tournament,” he said after Saturday’s last-second loss to Iowa, “we’re still going to sit here waiting to hear those words.”

That six-year wait is over. The Hoosiers are dancing.

2022 NCAA Tournament: What to know about IU’s First Four opponent, Wyoming

Plus: IU fans react to sending the Hoosiers to the play-in game

IU secured a No. 12 seed in Dayton, sending the Hoosiers to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016. They will face Wyoming for a chance to play St. Mary’s in Portland later in the week. Tipoff times will be announced later on Sunday.

“You come to college to play basketball,” Woodson said Sunday after the selection show. “You’re here to play in the tournament and get an education. A lot of these guys have been sitting on the sidelines for years watching basketball play in March and never knowing what it’s all about.

“I think it’s a beautiful thing. I’m very excited.”

They almost certainly would not have been in a position to hear your name on Sunday without your excellent work Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Beginning with a dramatic comeback win against Michigan, IU picked up two crucial wins in this week’s Big Ten tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. First, the Hoosiers erased Michigan’s 17-point lead in the matchup between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds on Thursday, using a 28-4 run to defeat the stunned Wolverines. Woodson’s team then battled top-seeded Illinois in a grueling, defense-first affair.

Indiana’s streak ended when a Jordan Bohannon shot from at least 30 feet gave Iowa an 80-77 win in what could have been the game of the event. But the Hoosiers’ overall work in the state capital moved them, in all likelihood, from the wrong side of the bubble before game kickoff Thursday morning to being safe on the field when it was announced Sunday night.

Indiana Hoosiers forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) and guard Rob Phinisee (1) celebrate a play in the first half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

“I don’t think anyone wants to see us right now,” IU forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said after the loss to Iowa. “I think we’ve shown not only the Big 10 but the country that we’re a team. top that can compete with anyone. It took a last-second 3 to beat us, the hottest team in the Big Ten right now, and it hurts, but at the same time I feel like we’ve got a lot of the ball left.”

The last time Hoosiers could safely count on that, Barack Obama was still president.

Woodson is Indiana’s third head coach since his alma mater last secured a spot in the field of 68.

Tom Crean guided the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 after winning the Big Ten regular season outright title in 2016 but was fired a year later after failing to make the tournament at all. Archie Miller, Crean’s successor, would likely have secured a spot in 2020, his only 20-win season in four years in charge of IU, but the COVID-forced cancellation of March Madness cost him that opportunity.

Well-informed person: This IU team found themselves and removed any doubt about their NCAA credentials.

Doyel: Mike Woodson has restored IU’s faith. That’s a great place to start.

Hired last spring after Miller was fired, Woodson seemed to have the Hoosiers comfortably on their way to the field this winter. Indiana began the season 16-5 and 7-4 in Big Ten play, before a five-game losing streak threatened to derail that progress.

But the Hoosiers bounced back, starting with an overtime loss at Ohio State (the last of those five straight losses). From there, including those two Big Ten tournament wins, IU won four of six, with the Michigan and Illinois wins being particularly crucial. Even losing to eventual Big Ten tournament champion Iowa won’t have done much damage to the Hoosiers, further underscoring how much they’ve improved over the past month.

A non-conference schedule force in the 300 depressed Indiana’s seed ceiling. After Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Richmond stole offers or drastically improved their résumés in their respective conference tournaments over the weekend, that non-conference schedule could have left Indiana worried about any inclusion in the field on Sunday.

But Illinois’ win in particular allowed the Hoosiers to get on the field without much stress. Now, they’ll bring that fine form to an event they’ve waited six frustrating years to rejoin. Any additional wins in the next three weeks would only sweeten what has turned into a successful first season for Woodson at Bloomington.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.

This article originally appeared on the Indianapolis Star: Indiana Basketball to Play Wyoming in March Madness Eastern Region

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