By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Mason Pratt isn’t a Indiana University fan but he’d like to see the basketball team make it into the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
“I’m for Purdue and they aren’t going to make it,” said Mason, while eating lunch with his dad, Craig Pratt Sunday afternoon at Wings Etc. Restaurant & Pub in Goshen.
His dad is a Purdue fan, as well.
“I’m pulling for IU though. They have a pretty good shot going into the postseason,” Pratt said. “(Coach Tom) Crean got the boys back and putting points on the board.”
IU is in the tournament for the second-straight season. The Hoosiers ended up being selected as the No. 1 seed in the East Region. Indiana will play the winner of a first-round play-in game between Long Island University and James Madison University in Philadelphia late in the week.
The past two seasons have seen a resurgence in IU basketball, which had been in a downturn since its last tournament appearance in 2008 after a recruiting scandal involving former coach Kelvin Sampson.
The Hoosiers have five national championships in their storied history, the last coming in 1987. Their last Final Four appearance was 2002, when they lost to Maryland in the national championship game.
Under head coach Tom Crean, who took over after Sampson was fired, the Hoosiers missed the tournament from 2009-11 before returning last season. Indiana advanced to the Sweet 16 last season before bowing out in a regional semifinal contest with a 102-90 loss to archrival Kentucky.
Two other Indiana schools also made the 68-team tournament field: Notre Dame (25-9) is seeded No. 7 in the West Regional and faces No. 10 Iowa State (22-11) in Dayton, Ohio on Friday. And Valparaiso (26-7) won the Horizon League’s tournament championship and accompanying automatic NCAA Tournament berth. The No. 14-seeded Crusaders face No. 3 Michigan State (25-8) on Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich.
The Hoosiers’ return to relevance has area fans taking another look at IU basketball as they ponder their brackets this week.
Mason, who plays basketball on the freshman team at Northridge High School, doesn’t make the brackets even though he’s interested in the teams that advance.
“I think Ohio State will, probably,” Mason said. “I’m not sure about IU, probably not, but they do have a chance. On scale from one to 10, maybe a four to get in.”
The father and son will talk about the teams in the brackets.
“We’ll give each other a hard time when the other team loses,” Pratt said, laughing.
A group of three friends sat at another table and Darin Batten of Goshen was the only one who makes brackets during this time of year.
“I always do it as a personal thing and see how well I actually predict,” Batten said. “It’s a gut thing. If you watch college basketball and follow those brackets, you have to have a feel for some of those teams. It’s a good exposure to see if those teams in the big 10 will be strong. Some have a good solid play.”
Each year can be different in doing brackets.
“Sometimes I put down teams that won’t win but I like them,” he said. “It’s just a fun thing. I want it to be a fun thing. I just go with my gut.”
He has a strong feeling that IU will be in the brackets and he’s more than just a IU fan.
“I’m a IU grad,” Batten said, smiling. “IU is playing great and they are solid right now. They might be just a little tired and worn now, but once get to the big dance, they’ll survive.”
Karl Fry of Millersburg said he’d like to see IU get in the final four.
He’s made brackets and competed with his brother the last 10 years, he added.
“We’re pretty serious about it. It’s just competition among brothers,” Fry said. “My brother usually picks them out better than me. I don’t know who to pick to win. Once I see the brackets, I’ll figure it out from there. I hope IU gets it.”
— Goshen News sports editor David Vantress contributed to this story.