INDIANAPOLIS (WDRB) -- When the University of Louisville basketball team rolled into Lucas Oil Stadium for its day-before shootaround in preparation for Friday's Midwest Regional semifinal against Oregon, players were greeted by a sign that read, "We're just here to watch the team that will lose to IU in the national championship game. Practice hard, Duke!"
In fact, there were more IU fans at Lucas Oil than fans for the four visiting programs.
This was supposed to be the Hoosiers' party.
It was ruined, largely, by three teams -- Louisville, Syracuse and Wisconsin.
When Indiana rebuffed an offer to play Louisville before this season, in retrospect, it missed a major opportunity. Rick Pitino offered to play the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall. It would've given the Hoosiers a chance to beat their main Midwest Region competition, and would've given them a chance to face a top-flight 2-3 zone.
Watching the Hoosiers fall to Syracuse on Thursday night in Washington, D.C., it occurred to me that both could have come in handy.
In the end, it was IU's inability to beat Wisconsin that landed it on the east coast instead of its own backyard. That, and a late-season surge by the Cardinals.
Syracuse's zone merely finished the job. The most shocking aspect of the game was what appeared to be on IU's part a lack of preparation for what it was going to face in Syracuse's zone.
Tom Crean, it should be remembered, jumped in to help craft the high-post attack that sunk Louisville and its 2-3 zone the last time it visited Indianapolis. Michigan State's Tom Izzo got his team together to craft a new zone attack the day of the game, a scheme that was assisted by Crean.
But against a zone Thursday night, Indiana's seasoned shooters just didn't execute what surely Crean drew up for them. And in the pressure of an early series of punches, didn't respond to the moment, or to Syracuse's physical play.
The Orange are a threat. It's fascinating to see how teams pick up speed at tournament time.
Of the five teams left in the Associated Press Top 10 at the end of the conference tournaments, only five remain alive. Three of them are in the Midwest Region with Louisville.
So many losses at the top of the bracket generally would be seen as an opening of the door for a team like Louisville, or Kansas. But to emerge from the Midwest Region is to get out of something not unlike the Final Four itself, with Michigan State and Duke looming, and a red-hot Oregon team before even considering that.
Ohio State and Syracuse have gathered tournament steam, as well.
One of the Cardinals' most valuable assets at this point will be their versatility. Their half-court defense, as well as their full-court press, can win them games. Their offense has been clicking, but after watching Indiana and Syracuse, it must be remembered that a team's offense can be slammed shut at any time.
Playing in the middle of Hoosier Nation, the Cardinals needed no reminder of the propensity of this tournament to slay giants. They got one anyway.