For Indiana basketball, what happens in Vegas goes around the college basketball world.
Because the Hoosiers are set to be part of the Las Vegas Classic and a field that includes two schools with ties to the Cream ‘n Crimson ways –- New Mexico and Colorado –- and one big bully in Northern Iowa.
Yes, Northern Iowa.
What, you were expecting Wayne Newton?
Anyway, New Mexico’s Indiana connections come in two parts. First, former IU All-America Steve Alford coaches the Lobos. Second, they recently accepted Emmanuel Negedu, the former Tennessee player whose heart condition ended his career with the Volunteers. He wanted to come to Indiana, but school officials nixed the idea, although the team medical staff cleared him.
That is just stuff to talk about. The main thing is New Mexico went 30-5 last season and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It returns one of the nation’s best point guards in senior Dairese Gary. Alford was named Mountain West coach of the year and finished third in the vote for AP national coach of the year.
IU assistant coach Steve McClain was an assistant coach at Colorado. He was in the running for the head coaching job that opened this spring. When he was shot down for that position, Indiana coach Tom Crean hired him.
McClain was instrumental in helping to rebuild the Colorado program. The Buffaloes return all five starters from a 15-16 team (their best record in five years). That includes All-Big 12 guard Cory Higgins (1,391 career points) and Big 12 freshman of the year Alec Burks (17.1 points).
As far as Northern Iowa, well, the Panthers might be the best team in the field. They won 30 games last year and reached the Sweet 16. They’ve won two straight Missouri Valley regular season and tournament championships. They return two starters and seven of their top-10 scorers, including senior point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe (10.6 points).
Also in the field are SIU-Edwardsville, The Citadel, Longwood University and South Carolina State.
Each team will play four games in the event. The first two will be at school arenas. The last two are set for Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena on Dec. 22-23.
As far as the glitzy Vegas scene, don’t expect the Hoosiers to see any of it. This is a business trip, which means they’re there to win basketball games. The other stuff -- check out the movie “The Hangover” to see what can happen -- can wait till they graduate.