Scott Underwood: Indiana owns basketball but not March Madness

Mar. 19—"In 49 other states, it's just basketball. This is Indiana," goes a slogan oft-repeated during February's NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis.

Yes, we Hoosiers are proud that the sport is synonymous with our state.

Our infatuation with basketball starts at the high school level, where we claim both the highest single-game attendance in prep history (41,046 in 1990 to watch Damon Bailey), and the inspiration for the movie "Hoosiers," based on tiny Milan's state title in the 1954 iteration of the one-size-fits-all Indiana high school tournament.

We're also proud of the Pacers, winners of three championships in the old red-white-and-blue-ball ABA and highly competitive during most of their subsequent history in the NBA. While the blue-and-gold has struggled in recent years, the 2023-24 season has brought the promise of a bright future spearheaded by sweet-passing point guard Tyrese Haliburton.

The layer between high school and pro ball, however, is perhaps most closely aligned with the hearts of Indiana basketball fans. Legions of Hoosiers swear allegiance to one or another of the college basketball programs that call Indiana home.

March Madness over the past decade has left most of those fans marooned.

It happened again Sunday when the NCAA Tournament selection committee named only one team from Indiana to the field of 68 for this year's March Madness. Purdue stands alone. No Indiana University, no Butler University, no Notre Dame, no Indiana State ...

Here's an update on the recent tournament history (or lack thereof) for teams from our basketball-loving state.

Last year, just two teams from Hoosier land, Purdue and IU, were selected for the tournament. By the end of the second round, both had been eliminated. The Boilermakers suffered the embarrassment of being just the second No. 1 seed eliminated by a 16 seed, and the Hoosiers flamed out in the second round against the University of Miami (Florida).

IU hasn't reached a Sweet Sixteen since 2016 and a Final Four since 2002. The Hoosiers last won an NCAA championship way back in 1987.

Purdue, meanwhile, has been exceptional during the regular season in recent years but has enjoyed little success during March Madness, routinely losing to smaller, lower-ranked opponents. Hopefully, the Boilers' loss in the semifinals of last weekend's Big Ten Tournament doesn't portend another early exit from the NCAA bracket.

Butler rose to prominence by reaching national championship games back to back in 2010 and '11 and then made the March Madness field five times over the next seven seasons. The Bulldogs have since fallen on hard times, missing the NCAA tournament each of the past six seasons.

While IU, Purdue and Butler have historically led the Hoosier state's charge in March Madness, other teams from Indiana have had their shining moments, as well.

In 2016 and '17, Notre Dame reached the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons. Sadly, the Fighting Irish are now bottom-dwellers in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Valparaiso used to dominate its conference, earning nine March Madness berths in a 20-year stretch ending in 2015. Who can forget Bryce Drew's iconic last-second shot to vanquish Mississippi in 1998? The Beacons, though, haven't done anything memorable over the past decade.

While Indiana State can always point to the 1979 team that Larry Bird led to the national final, the Sycamores have won just one game (2001) in the NCAA tournament since. This season, ISU has perhaps its strongest team since '79 but lost in its conference tournament and did not receive an at-large bid from the selection committee.

The state of Indiana continues to hold its basketball identity dear, but Purdue holds the only hope for March Madness memories this time around.

Let's all unite to root for that — and an early exit for Kentucky.

Editor Scott Underwood's column is published Mondays in The Herald Bulletin. Contact him at or 765-640-4845.