Indiana, the top-seeded team in the Midwest, is battling a bitter memory as it prepares for its opening NCAA tournament game against underdog Fairfield.
A year ago, the favored Hoosiers were beaten by Cleveland State in the first round of the tournament. And this season, even with a No. 3 national ranking, they've shown a tendency to let up against weaker opposition.
The Fairfield-Indiana game will be the final first-round game tonight at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, which seats about 43,000 for basketball.
No. 14-ranked Missouri (24-9) opens the tournament against Xavier, Ohio (18-12), followed by No. 17 Duke (22-8) against Texas A&M (17-13) and Auburn (17-12) against San Diego (24-5).
The Indiana-Fairfield winner will play the Auburn-San Diego winner in Saturday's first game.
"We hope we learned a valuable lesson last year with Cleveland State," says Indiana guard Steve Alford, a two-time All-American who is the school's career scoring leader with 2,300 points. "We hope things are different this year, but we can't really tell until the game starts. Hopefully, we'll be in it."
Indiana (24-4) tied Purdue for the Big Ten Conference championship. The league has no post-season tourney, and Indiana got the Big Ten's automatic bid. Fairfield finished only 15-15 but earned its second NCAA appearance by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tourney.
"Playing a team like Indiana and a coach like Bob Knight is a great thrill for me and our program," said Fairfield's second-year Coach Mitch Buonaguro, whose Stags were beaten by another Big Ten team, Illinois, in last year's tournament. "They're just an outstanding team. I think they have the capability of winning the whole thing.
"Anytime you get the 16th seed (Fairfield) playing the No. 1 seed, everyone's going to say it's one of the biggest mismatches of the tournament," he continued. "But we're just going to go out and do the best we can and play as hard as we can."
Duke, an at-large tourney entrant, is making its fourth straight NCAA appearance despite the loss of the top four scorers from last year's Final Four team. The Blue Devils lost to eventual champion North Carolina State in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
No. 3-ranked North Carolina (29-3) is top-seeded in the East Regional at Charlotte, N.C., and goes against Pennsylvania, which is only 13-13. But Tar Heels Coach Dean Smith frets over the Quakers' as if they were champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference instead of the Ivy League.
"I think we can defeat Penn, but so can anybody defeat us." Smith said. "That could happen. That's why people show up at a game."
Smith has guided the Tar Heels into 13 straight NCAA tournaments and holds a record of 33-17 in the tournament, but his team has had a hard time in the NCAA tournament since winning it all in 1982.
Pennsylvania has been in the NCAA tournament a total of 13 years, going 12-14 in the post-season tournament. The Quakers' last victory in NCAA play was a 62-55 win over Washington State in 1980.
But the Quakers also own a 1979 victory over North Carolina in the NCAA first round. That 72-71 victory sparked the Quakers into the NCAA Final Four, where they lost to Magic Johnson's Michigan State team in the semifinals.
North Carolina fans remember the 1979 loss in Raleigh as part of "Black Sunday," in which the loss by then-No. 3 Tar Heels was followed by a 80-78 defeat of No. 11 Duke by St. John's.
"I don't mean to sound like I'm brash or cocky or confident, but I think we can play with these guys," Penn center Bruce Lefkowitz said.
In other East games at the Charlotte Coliseum, Navy (26-5) plays Michigan (19-11), Notre Dame (22-7) plays Middle Tennessee State (22-6) and Texas Christian (23-6) plays Marshall (25-5).
Navy, the Colonial Athletic Conference champion for a third straight year, will pin its hopes on 7-foot center David Robinson, who is averaging 28 points and 12 rebounds per game. The Midshipmen reached the final eight last year but will be hard-pressed to beat a Michigan team coming off a 104-68 rout of highly touted Purdue.
At Birmingham, Ala., the University of New Orleans takes a 25-3 record and a No. 7 seeding in the Southeast Region into its meeting with Brigham Young (21-10).
Alabama Birmingham has the home-court advantage in the first round games and shares the home-state edge with Alabama. The Blazers (21-10), seeded 11th, face Providence (21-8), and ninth-ranked Alabama (26-44) opens against North Carolina A&T (24-5).
In the other Southeast game today, Illinois (23-7) plays Austin Peay (19-11).