The Herald Bulletin

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March 16, 2014

Scott Underwood: No IU? No Purdue? No problem for your bracket

Wherefore art thou Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, Butler ... ?

For just the second time in four decades, Indiana teams will be conspicuously absent from the NCAA men's tournament, leaving most local college basketball fans without a rooting interest.

As discouraging as that is for a state that touts its basketball tradition, it does herald an opportunity to break away from the "homer" tendency that destroys many a March Madness prediction bracket.

If you enter a bracket challenge, you probably know just what I'm talking about: You want the Indiana teams to win, and you're unfamiliar with many of the other tournament entries. So you pencil in the Indiana schools to win.

But good college basketball is played all across the country, even if you've never heard of many of the schools. Remember the George Washington team that reached the Final Four a few years ago? How about Wichita State last year?

Consider March Madness 2014, with no Indiana teams clouding your judgment, a chance to approach your bracket with a clear, open mind.

Perhaps Albany or Wofford or North Carolina Central or another underdog will pull off a couple of shockers and reach the Sweet Sixteen.

Speaking of Shockers, Wichita State is back again and a legitimate threat to win the whole thing. The Shockers are the first team in more than 20 years to reach the tournament with an unbeaten record.

One word of advice: Think carefully before choosing Big Ten teams to advance deep into the tournament. The conference just isn't that strong this season.

The one exception might be Michigan State. The Spartans struggled through the middle of the season as several key players suffered injuries. MSU is back at full force now, and Coach Tom Izzo is a master at reaching the Final Four.

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