The Herald-Times, Chris Howell, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Verdell Jones pumped his fist, Jordan Hulls kept slapping teammates' hands and Tom Crean walked through two rows of players congratulating each one.
No, the Hoosiers may not be all the way back to their lofty perch yet, but Sunday's celebration was one more giant step in that direction.
Indiana is heading back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, ending a painful drought for one of the nation's blue-blood basketball programs. The fourth-seeded Hoosiers will play 13th-seeded New Mexico State on Thursday night in Portland, Ore.
The specifics weren't terribly important.
"It's a great feeling to be with your team, to see them get a dream come true," said Crean, the Indiana coach., "You don't start following college basketball without knowing what this day means and without knowing what that selection show means. And every one of them, no matter what age they started watching, they remember it and now they will always have this to remember."
Fortunately, for the Hoosiers (25-8), they didn't have to wait long to find out where they were headed.
Less than 15 minutes into the selection show, Indiana's name popped up in the same South Region bracket as Kentucky and Duke, a region that also includes three of last year's Final Four teams -- Connecticut, Kentucky and Virginia Commonwealth.
But in Bloomington, all that really mattered was that they were back after missing postseason play the last three years.
Players, coaches and their families gathered for a private viewing party inside the Henke Hall of Champions at the refurbished football stadium. and when their name popped up on the television screen, they all stood up, roared loudly, applauded and started hugging one another.
"Everybody's kind of doubted us, everybody's been going against us in big games," forward Derek Elston said. "Knowing that we've come out of those with wins, and seeing that we're finally back in the tournament, it's a lot of fun to be part of this right."
Few teams did more to earn their at-large bid than these Hoosiers.
Four years ago, Crean took over a program under an NCAA investigation for a phone-call scandal that occurred under his predecessor, Kelvin Sampson. Within six weeks, the program was gutted.
Crean's first team included only two returnees, both walk-ons, two scholarship players (Tom Pritchard and Matt Roth) recruited by Sampson, a junior college transfer and one freshman (Jones) that Crean convinced to sign with the Hoosiers in April.
After going 6-25, 10-21 and 12-20 in those first three dismal seasons, Indiana produced its most memorable season in nearly a decade.
It was one of two teams to upset No. 1 Kentucky. It became the first Big Ten team in nearly six decades to knock off a No. 1 team and a No. 2 team in the same season. It finished with a perfect nonconference record for the first time since 1989-90, a school record 18 victories at Assembly Hall and three regular-season wins over top-five teams for the first time in school history.
A win over New Mexico State would give Indiana its highest victory total since the 1992-93 team won 31 games, the Big Ten crown and came within one win of reaching the Final Four.
Plus, their 13-game improvement was the best of any school in a BCS conference.
"It's a great feeling, it's one we'll probably reflect upon a lot more when the season's over," Crean said.
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