Eighth-ranked Indiana and 11th-ranked Seton Hall are where they hoped to be at this stage of the season--in the “Sweet 16" of the NCAA tournament. They also are on a collision course.
The Hoosiers and Pirates, winners of their first two games in the West Regional, are to meet Thursday in the West semifinals at Denver.
Indiana, 27-7, advanced by beating Texas-El Paso 92-69 Sunday, while Seton Hall, 28-6, defeated Evansville 87-73.
“We’ve lasted longer than 48 other teams,” Hoosiers coach Bob Knight said. “What are our chances now? We got past 48. We got 16 left. We’re as far as we can be right now.”
Seton Hall coach P. J. Carlesimo said his team, which was the Big East Conference runner-up this season, already has gone further than expected.
“We’re good and we know it,” Carlesimo said. “We think we’re as good as anybody in the tournament. That’s not to be arrogant. You have to prove it, but we felt we could make it to Denver.
“We’re a confident team,” said Carlesimo, the two-time Big East Coach of the Year. “Sometimes that’s bad. But the guys don’t think they’re going to lose. The constant is defense. There aren’t too many teams that let an 18-point lead get away and be hanging by your fingernails and come back, but this team’s been doing it all year.”
Seton Hall made its first NCAA tournament appearance last year as the West’s No. 8 seed at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. The Pirates beat Texas-El Paso 80-64 in the first round before losing 84-55 to Arizona in the second.
This time, Carlesimo said, his club could go all the way.
‘A Tough Schedule’
“I like our chances,” he said. “We felt we were good enough to come here and win two games. We felt we were a legitimate No. 3 seed. You get past the first weekend and you’re down to 16 teams. It’s a crap shoot now.
“I think we’ve been a Top 10 team all year. We’ve played a tough schedule and shown we can play with anybody. The kids know that. We’re good and they know it. If we win two more games, we’ll talk more about it.”
However, the Pirates have to get past Big Ten Conference champion Indiana, which also combined balanced scoring and tough defense to win its second-round game.
“It’ll be interesting to see how far they go,” Texas-El Paso coach Don Haskins said. “You got to play defense better than we did against a team that shoots that well. I don’t know if there’s a better perimeter-shooting team in the country than Indiana. There’s not a guy on that team who can’t shoot the ball.
“Seton Hall will certainly be more physical than we were, and Indiana is not going to be able to get the ball off the boards as easily as they did against us. I think that’ll be a good game.”
Indiana has a 412-136 record in 18 seasons under Knight and is 29-9 overall in 13 NCAA tournaments with national championships in 1976, 1981 and 1987.
Knight is cautious about talk of another title, though.
“At this stage of the tournament, everybody has shown they can play, and things tend to get a little distorted,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake, and teams tend to play too cautiously. You’re trying not to make mistakes or trying to make the right move every time.
“Sometimes the team that goes on is the one that plays aggressively. What you don’t have a chance at is if some team is good and playing well. But these next eight games, anybody has a chance. You don’t go any farther than thinking everybody’s got a chance.”