March Madness hits NIU: Hammel’s view

By Wes Swietek

As NIU enjoys it’s share of March Madness, courtesy of the women’s basketball team, men’s head coach Brian Hammel is enjoying the hoops hoopla as well.

Even though his squad had any NCAA Tournament hopes dashed with a loss in the first round of the Mid-Continent Conference tourney, Hammel takes the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” approach.

“I learned while I was at Iowa (as an assistant coach) that the success of one program feeds off the success of another,” Hammel said, “as long as your name is out there in a positive spotlight.”

As for the men’s side of the tourney, Hammel said he wasn’t too surprised when 25-4, conference regular-season champs Wisconsin-Green Bay failed to gain an at-large bid to the NCAAs.

“I was disappointed but not surprised,” Hammel said. “(Coaches) are tough skinned and expect the worst in certain scenarios.”

“What probably hurt Green Bay was having (recently-injured starting guard John) Martinez out. The selection committee wants to make sure that if (UW-GB) got in the tourney, they’d have a good showing.

“They probably thought that (UW-GB) could get into a first-round game against a tough opponent and really get stung and embarrass the committee. I don’t think it would have happened, but on paper it very well could have.”

Green Bay settled for an NIT bid. The Phoenix open against Manhattan tonight in New York.

The Mid-Continent will be represented by the upstart Eastern Illinois Panthers, who took the M-C crown by upsetting UW-GB and topping Illinois-Chicago in the title game.

As a reward for making the NCAAs, the Panthers (17-13, the 15th seed in the West Regional) face the second-seeded Indiana Hoosiers, tonight at 9:30 p.m.

“If I’m a bettin‘ man, my money would go on the Hoosiers—just like 99.9 percent of everyone else,” Hammel said.

The Huskies split their two matches with EIU this season, winning 76-67 at Eastern and dropping the return match at Chick Evans Field House 65-61.

Having faced the Panthers twice, Hammel knows Eastern is capable of pulling off the upset.

“A heck of a lot of things can happen. Eastern has a good inside-outside attack,” Hammel said. “As long as they can stay in the game for a while—that would be their goal—then maybe they can steal a victory.”