OTTUMWA – There were certainly no guarantees.
Hank Plona, however, wasn't all that worried about the outcome of Sunday's NJCAA Division I Men's National Basketball Tournament selection show. Eight days after being stunned at the Hellyer Student Life Center in the Region XI championship game by Southeastern, the Warriors received the official word that they will have more basketball to play this season earning the sixth seed in the 24-team single elimination tournament.
Ranked fifth heading into the postseason, the Warriors dropped just one spot as a reward of their work done in the regular season. Indian Hills, 27-4, will be the last of the 24 teams in this year's tournament to take the floor at the Hutchinson Sports Arena for the first time facing either 11th-seeded Ranger College or 22nd-seeded Seminole State on Wednesday, Mar. 22 at approximately 8 p.m.
"I wasn't really worried about getting into the tournament. My focus this past week was to help our guys recover from a very emotional and challenging defeat last Saturday," Plona said. "We weren't planning on having a loss to learn from, but when you play really good teams, sometimes you're forced to do that."
Indian Hills knows all about facing the best teams in the country as the 24-team national tournament field features five teams that faced the Warriors this season in eight of IHCC's 31 games so far this season. John A. Logan, the top seed in this year's tournament, enters with a 29-2 record that includes a 71-69 home loss to Indian Hills back on Nov. 9 as IHCC ultimately faced three other national tournament qualifiers (Dodge City, John A. Logan, Northwest Florida State) in the first eight games of the regular season.
"I'm very proud of the season we had," Plona said. "When we play John A. Logan and Northwest Florida in the first three weeks, we know we're playing teams that could potentially be the No. 1 seed in the national tournament. Ultimately, it was the No. 1 seed and the defending national champions that we faced in that opening stretch. That's why we recruit kids to Indian Hills to try and test ourselves in those type of games."
All told, Indian Hills went 6-2 in match-ups this year with fellow national tournament qualifiers, beating four of the five fellow national tournament qualifiers during the season. Moberly Area, seeded fourth in the 24-team tournament, was the only qualifier to avoid losing to the Warriors in the regular season earning an 82-71 win on Jan. 3 in IHCC's first home game out of a three-week holiday break.
Indian Hills also swept Dodge City, who is seeded 13th in the tournament earning an at-large selection. The Warriors opened the season with a thrilling 88-87 win in overtime over the Conquistadors on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Don McHenry, the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference's Player of the Year, back on Nov. 1 before returning from the holiday break rallying in the second half to earn an 87-81 road win in the rematch on Dec. 31.
"I knew those two wins over Dodge City would really help," Plona said. "We played some very tough teams throughout the regular season because the odds are that a few of them are going to have great seasons.
"I feel very confident in what we've accomplished as a team. Throughout the year, I think we've been considered one of the best five or six teams in the country. We've got a chance to do a lot of damage in the national tournament."
However it winds up, this will be a historic national tournament appearance for the Warrior men's basketball program. For the first time, IHCC will be joined in the national tournament field by their regional rivals from West Burlington as Southeastern clinched a national tournament berth for the first time since 2011 winning a 75-73 overtime thriller at the North Dakota State College of Science on Saturday to claim the NJCAA North Central district title.
After losing twice in the regular season to the Warriors, the Blackhawks earned the trip to North Dakota with a 63-60 win at IHCC last Saturday in the regional finals. Southeastern is seeded 14th in the tournament and will face Snead State on Tuesday, Mar. 21.
Should Southeastern win that contest, the Blackhawks would face third-seeded Odessa in the second round contest that would be played the following night just ahead of IHCC's contest. If the Blackhawks win their first two national tournament games and the Warriors win their second-round contest, the longtime rivals would meet for the first time in a national tournament in the fourth and final quarterfinal contest at Hutchinson on Thursday, Mar. 23.
"I have too much respect in that tournament to think any game is going to go a certain way," Plona said. "If we wind up facing them in the tournament, I know our guys certainly wouldn't lack any motivation. Odessa is one of the best teams as well in junior college basketball.
"We have to focus on our task at hand. If we happen to face Southeastern, that'd be awesome."
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