PHILADELPHIA – As long as Tom Crean had to wait to bring his Indiana Hoosiers back to the Sweet 16, it was an even longer wait for him to fulfill a basketball dream.
Advancing to the Sweet 16 in the East Region allowed Crean to finally visit The Palestra, better known in these parts as “the cathedral of college basketball.” The Hoosiers, in the Regionals for the first time since 2013, practiced on 33rd Street in West Philadelphia earlier, and Crean couldn’t get enough of the hallowed basketball ground.
“It was absolutely great to be in there,” said Crean. “I love gyms like that. There’s places for new arenas, but we coach in a cathedral in Assembly Hall. Coming in here, and coming to Philadelphia is like that.”
If anything, of all the cities outside of Bloomington and/or any other city in the Hoosier State they could be playing in this weekend, Philadelphia might be their preferred choice, especially given its history in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Hoosiers are a perfect 4-0 in NCAA Tournament games in Philadelphia, with all four wins coming in the Final Four. Bob Knight’s perfect 1976 team defeated UCLA and Michigan to complete the last undefeated season in college basketball, while the Isiah Thomas-led team defeated LSU and North Carolina in 1981 to win the championship. All four of those games took place at the old Spectrum.
On the same plot of land, but in a new arena, Indiana hopes to pick up right where it left off 35 years ago: defeating North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. On Friday night, Indiana will take on the top seed in the East Region, the Tar Heels. That game comes after the other contest in the East Regional, the No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers against sixth-seeded Notre Dame. Both the Badgers and Irish made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament last season, with both having to cross the paths of an undefeated Kentucky during their runs.
With national player of the year Frank Kaminsky leading the way, Wisconsin took down the undefeated Wildcats in the Final Four last season, but a return trip to the national semifinals seemed far-fetched after losing Kaminsky – as well as fellow 2015 NBA first-round pick Sam Dekker – from last year’s team, and also seeing head coach Bo Ryan step down early on this season. Alas, here Wisconsin is, arriving in Philly after Bronson Koenig’s buzzer-beating three to eliminate No. 2 Xavier in the second round in St. Louis.
Notre Dame also is in the Sweet 16 after a buzzer beater in the second round, with defensive specialist Rex Pflueger tipping in a miss with 1.5 seconds left to survive the upset bid of Stephen F. Austin last Sunday in Brooklyn.
Enjoy our preview video of the Sweet 16 games tomorrow night in Philadelphia, and stay tuned to A Lot of Sports Talk for postgame coverage after each game.
[Cover photo (Rex Pflueger) courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images]