BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (BVM) – When it comes to college basketball, the state of Indiana is a place that quickly comes to mind. Many legends of the sport have played and coached within Indiana, and some of college basketball’s best teams have come out of the Hoosier state.
With as much success as many of the programs in the state have had over the last few decades, a team from Indiana has not won a national championship since the Hoosiers of 1987. There have been some runner-ups including Indiana in 2002 and Butler in 2010 and 2011. There have also been some dominant teams that looked poised to make postseason runs whether it be Indiana, Purdue or Notre Dame.
In 2022, each of those three teams will be looking to change the narrative and finally bring home a national championship to the state. It won’t be easy, but the tournament holds the March Madness title for a reason, as anything can happen. Let’s take a look at who has the best chance at making a run in this tournament.
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame has been an under-the-radar team for the majority of the 2021-22 campaign, bouncing back from a losing, 11-15 season last year. The Fighting Irish had actually missed the tournament each of the last four years – although the 2020 tournament was canceled – which is surprising considering the run of success they had been on.
With head coach Mike Brey at the helm since 2000, the Fighting Irish have suffered just three losing seasons, and have now made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances. Their best chances at a title came in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons where Notre Dame fell in the Elite Eight in both seasons.
Following a second-round loss in the tournament the following season, the Fighting Irish were ranked as high as No. 5 in the AP poll in 2017-18, but would fall from there, missing the Big Dance altogether.
However, after a rough stretch, Notre Dame is back, and has had a strong season this year. The Fighting Irish did start out the season with just a 4-5 record, suffering losses to other tournament teams in Saint Mary’s, Illinois and Indiana. However, a 66-62 win over powerhouse Kentucky showed that this team was legitimate.
Notre Dame would go on to dominate in ACC play, finishing second in the conference with a 15-5 record and going 22-10 overall on the season. Despite an early ACC Tournament loss to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame still did enough to make the tournament, playing against Rutgers in the First Four on Wednesday night.
“To see these guys last year, a beaten down group not being a part of it, to being a part of it.
We are honored. We will be there early and ready to go in Dayton. I am very proud of this group for chasing it for a year.” — @NDMikeBrey
— Notre Dame Men's Basketball (@NDmbb) March 14, 2022
“Absolutely honored to be here and to be part of this,” Coach Brey said during a Tuesday press conference. “We’ve missed it in recent years. And I’ve missed it desperately. And to be back in it, we’re thrilled. We’re honored.”
The Irish are led by a strong scoring trio of Blake Wesley, Dane Goodwin and Paul Atkinson Jr., who each average 12 or more points per game. Prentiss Hubb, Nate Laszewski and Cormac Ryan are also strong contributors that you can anticipate hearing about if Notre Dame makes a run this March.
Having to start that run in the First Four isn’t easy, but recent history is on their side. Last season, UCLA went from the First Four to the Final Four, joining the 2011 VCU squad in that accomplishment.
“We’ve talked about kind of using this as a springboard to kind of launch our run here,” Ryan said about playing in the First Four during a Tuesday press conference. “And we fully believe that. We think we hit the ground running and we look at it as a great opportunity for us, not a challenge.”
After Rutgers, Notre Dame would face Alabama, and then potentially see some heavyweights in Texas Tech, Duke and Gonzaga on the road to the Final Four. While it doesn’t seem likely, last year’s UCLA team certainly can serve as an inspiration for the Fighting Irish that there is a chance if they start playing some of their best basketball of the year in March.
- Indiana Hoosiers
The Indiana Hoosiers are another team returning to this year’s tournament after a brief hiatus, and like Notre Dame were selected to play in the First Four. Indiana already has a win under its belt in this tournament, defeating Wyoming on Tuesday night, 66-58.
Bracket: updated. 🤝 pic.twitter.com/oboyNOp9yb
— Indiana Basketball (@IndianaMBB) March 16, 2022
For Indiana, it didn’t always seem like they would get to this point. After last season, the team let go of former coach Archie Miller and attempted to bring back some of the success of the Bob Knight era by hiring former national champion player and NBA head coach, Mike Woodson, in hopes he can bring the program its first national title since 1987.
“For me it’s like a dream come true,” Woodson said during a press conference on Monday. “I’ve been in basketball a long time. I’ve worn a number of hats as a player, as a head coach, as an assistant coach. But to be able to come back and coach your alma mater … It’s like a dream come true. So it’s good to be back.”
With such a notable alum at the helm, Hoosier players bought in right away, with most deciding to stay with the program to see what they could accomplish with the veteran coach. The results were great to start, as the Hoosiers went 10-2 over their first 12 games, losing just a two-overtime contest to Syracuse and a Big Ten game at Wisconsin in which they held a 20-point lead at one point.
The rest of the Big Ten season wasn’t as kind to Indiana. After starting 7-4, the Hoosiers lost seven of their final nine games heading into the Big Ten Tournament and appeared to be on the wrong side of the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
That seemed even more true in their opening Big Ten Tournament game against Michigan where they found themselves down 60-43 in the second half. But a 28-4 run turned their season around, as they came back to beat Michigan, and then pulled off an upset over No. 1-seeded Illinois last Friday. Against eventual champion Iowa in the semi finals, Indiana more than held its own, holding a nine-point lead late but eventually falling thanks to some heroics from Iowa senior Jordan Bohannon.
Still, Indiana had done enough to make the tournament. Already securing a win against Wyoming in the First Four while forcing 19 Cowboys turnovers has the team confident going into the opening round.
The headliner for Indiana is Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is in his third season with the Hoosiers. An All-Big Ten second team player, Jackson-Davis averaged 18.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks throughout the season, but has saved his best for the end, scoring 21 or more points in his last four games as he finally gets his first true taste of March.
He’s just on another level. ⚪️🔴 pic.twitter.com/J7DeUfs3V1
— Indiana Basketball (@IndianaMBB) March 16, 2022
“It’s always been a dream playing in the tournament,” Jackson-Davis said during a press conference on Monday. “And finally getting that opportunity I think is really cool. But after we got selected, I was really relieved because I was really anxious leading up to it, especially going through it. Not seeing our name until the final bracket was a little nerve racking. But finally having that pressure off your shoulders and you’re finally playing for something, playing for a national title I think is really cool.”
Transfer point guard Xavier Johnson has also put up some big games thus far in March, and Indiana has a deep squad, consistently getting good contributions from guys like Race Thompson, Parker Stewart, Miller Kopp and Trey Galloway. Rob Phinisee and Jordan Geronimo have also played well as of late.
Coming out of a strong Big Ten conference and playing as well as they have all season, Indiana has a real chance to make a run and is probably the more likely team to capture UCLA’s magic from last year. They will now face off with a tough Saint Mary’s squad. Should they advance, they will likely play the aforementioned UCLA, and may have to get by Baylor, Kentucky or in-state foe Purdue to get to the Final Four. It would not be an easy road, but it does seem to be something the Hoosiers are capable of at their best.
- Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue has not won an official national championship in the tournament era, last being deemed champions in 1932 with a guard by the name of John Wooden on its squad. However, there is little doubt they have the best chance of these three teams of winning it all this year, and perhaps the best opportunity for any team from Indiana in quite some time.
After replacing the legendary Gene Keady, head coach Matt Painter has led Purdue to plenty of success, missing the NCAA Tournament just four times since he took over in 2005. In 2019, Purdue made it as far as they had since 2000, losing in the Elite Eight.
Reloading his squad after that run, Purdue made a surprising run to a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten last season, unfortunately falling to No. 13 North Texas in the first round last year. However, the talent on the team was evident, and expectations were high coming into this campaign.
First team All-Big Ten performer Jaden Ivey coming back to West Lafayette was key. Ivey averaged 17.4 points per game this season on a deep squad, but is a threat to go off at any moment with a smooth shooting stroke and a quickness to get to the basket.
He’s been joined by fellow sophomore Zach Edey, a 7-foot-4 center who is nearly unstoppable at times in the post. Another key sophomore contributor in Mason Gillis has also helped this team, and paired with the veteran savvy of guys like Trevion Williams, Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter Jr., Purdue has boasted one of the deeper squads in college basketball this season.
An 8-0 start to the year had the Boilermakers ranked No. 1 in the country until suffering a last-second loss to Rutgers. A couple of losses to Wisconsin, and being defeated by Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State since proved how tough the Big Ten is. Also losing to Iowa in the conference tournament led to some additional disappointment, as the Boilermakers failed to win any kind of Big Ten crown with one of their best rosters in recent memory.
Still, this team has the chops to come out on top in March. The No. 3 seed of the East Region, Purdue will begin its championship quest by taking on Ivy League champ Yale. Should the Boilermakers win that, they will face either Texas or Virginia Tech to get to the Sweet 16.
👀 The look at the East. pic.twitter.com/YHTXSS5lD0
— Purdue Men's Basketball (@BoilerBall) March 13, 2022
Things will get challenging from there, as they could face the likes of Kentucky, Baylor or UCLA to get to a Final Four. They also have Gonzaga on their side of the bracket to reach the national championship.
“Everybody earns their way in this one,” Painter said on Sunday after the team’s NCAA Tournament seed was announced. “Everybody is good and we’ll have our hands full.”
Yet, with one of the best rosters in the country that includes a future NBA talent in Ivey and a dominant big man in Edey, Purdue has the makeup of a team that can make a run, just maybe putting the state of Indiana back on the college basketball map in 2022.