The NCAA Tournament is the perfect opportunity for struggling teams to gain some redemption. It gives some schools the opportunity to return to earlier moments of brilliance. Think about Indiana and Alabama, who face off in the Midwest Region's first round. How did this matchup look back in early December?
The Hoosiers (seeded No. 7) opened 8-0 and played exceptionally well at the Maui Invitational, unveiling a diaper dandy named Bracey Wright. All Wright did was return to Bloomington with the gold trophy as the MVP out in Maui. What a smashing success as a freshman!
Think about the preseason hype surrounding Alabama (seeded No. 10). Everyone raved about the 1-2 tandem of Maurice Williams and Erwin Dudley. The Tide rolled onto Broadway and took out a highly rated Oklahoma squad led by Hollis Price.
Also making this matchup intriguing is the presence of a former Tide player known for his hustle -- and now Mike Davis is on the other sideline, coaching the Hoosiers!
Williams looked super as he dazzled at the point. While watching, I felt there couldn't be a better point guard in the nation. Dudley was power personified inside, one reason he was SEC player of the year in 2001-02.
There was optimism for coach Mark Gottfried's Crimson Tide, and the Tide rolled on to a 9-0 record. Remember that? Indiana opened 8-0 and Alabama started 9-0! Unbelievable, baby!
Then the Tide went out to Utah and everything unraveled. After falling to coach Rick Majerus' Utes, Alabama slid to 7-9 in the SEC before losing the opening round of the league tournament to Vanderbilt, which entered on its own nine-game losing streak!
It looked like N-I-T, N-I-T for the Tide. Gottfried and his team had to feel jubilation when Alabama's name was on the board for the Big Dance on Selection Sunday.
Now both Alabama and Indiana have a shot for redemption. Indiana clawed its way back with a couple of wins in the Big Ten tournament before losing a nail-biter to Illinois. Remember, the Hoosiers suffered some tough defeats in league play, falling to Northwestern and Penn State along the way. Ouch!
The Hoosiers rebounded big-time and are ready to show something after reaching the NCAA championship game last year.
Also making this matchup intriguing is the presence of a former Tide player known for his hustling and scrapping ability -- and now Mike Davis is on the other sideline, coaching the Hoosiers!
IRISH ALSO SEEKING REDEMPTION
How many teams this season had a better week than Notre Dame did when it beat Marquette, Maryland and Texas? But coach Mike Brey's Irish slipped down the stretch, losing four of their last five, including a first-round exit in the Big East tournament against St. John's.
Notre Dame was beating people in shootouts. Matt Carroll, one of the most improved players in America, has dazzled from the perimeter. Chris Thomas has great offensive ability and can sparkle. The big question was, what happened to the defense?
Now the Irish have a chance to bounce back against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and that is not Cupcake City. Coach Bruce Pearl's team was solid in beating Butler in the Horizon League championship game. Watch out for underrated star Clay Tucker.
The Horizon League has scored its share of tourney surprises over the years. Detroit beat St. John's and UCLA. Butler had Florida beat until Mike Miller hit a game-winning layup in overtime. The Horizon is a tougher conference than people think.
The Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee matchup is interesting. The Irish will have to play some defense or it will be one and done, baby! If Notre Dame defends, it will likely march on to face Illinois.
The Illini has shown a lot, given all it lost from last season. That shows what coach Bill Self has done this season -- a brilliant job in getting his team to the Big Ten tournament championship.
UNCLE MO OVERRATED
I feel that momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament is often overblown. Look at 1997, when Arizona lost its last two games (vs. California and Stanford). Coach Lute Olson's team came into the NCAAs as a No. 4 seed, and the 'Cats went on to beat three No. 1 seeds to win the title and cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
Just look back at Maryland last season, losing to N.C. State in the ACC semifinals. Coach Gary Williams' Terps responded by marching on and winning it all behind the senior leadership of Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter.
So much for momentum -- good old Uncle Mo can be overrated, baby! It all starts new on Thursday, with every team an even 0-0. That will be the cry from Mike Davis, Mark Gottfried and Mike Brey.