April 04, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) America's favorite underdog is pulling for an upset this weekend.

No surprise there.

With unbeaten Kentucky threatening Indiana's 39-year perch as the last perfect men's team in major college basketball, the team that stole millions of hearts in the movie ''Hoosiers'' is rooting for anybody but the Wildcats at Lucas Oil Stadium.

''Our rivalry with Kentucky starts early, with the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Game,'' explained Ray Craft, who joined teammate Bobby Plump in the 1954 game. ''So we don't want them to win it.''

Instead, they're hoping Wisconsin and Michigan State win Saturday's national semifinals, setting up an all-Big Ten championship game Monday in Big Ten country.

Craft, Plump and four of their teammates returned to Lucas Oil Stadium, about six miles from Hinkle Fieldhouse where they pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in Indiana high school history. It is known in Indiana as the 1954 Milan Miracle.

To just about everyone else, it's known simply as ''Hoosiers,'' and the 1986 movie that captivated the nation and the world has continued to make an impact around the nation and the world.

''We've had people come in from all 50 states and 27 foreign countries,'' Plump said. ''When the Spanish team came here in 2001 or 2003 (for the World Basketball championships), one of the players came up to me and said `You're the reason I started playing basketball.'''

But there are other reasons they're around now.

They're promoting a new museum that celebrates their accomplishment from 61 years ago.

And, of course, it's March in Indianapolis, when every underdog -- including the three in town -- are hoping to recapture some of the Milan magic.

- Mike Marot

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DRIVING INTO THE FINAL FOUR: When players arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium for their first workouts this week, they found a gift in each of their lockers: a 1/18 scale die-cast IndyCar.

Naturally, it was adorned with special Final Four graphics.

GreenLight Collectibles produced 1,000 of the limited-edition cars for the NCAA to give out to players and school officials, along with sponsors and other VIPs. The cars are painted white, black and red - the colors of this year's Final Four logo - and carry No 15.

''They're pretty cool,'' said Michigan State guard Bryn Forbes, turning the box over in his hands to get a closer look at the metal body, rubber wheels and other details.

''Bringing to life the Final Four models and assisting in the marketing of Indianapolis's racing heritage was something we were thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in,'' said Jeff Nelson, the national sales manager for GreenLight Collectibles.

There are also four full-size IndyCars in the same livery positioned around Indianapolis, as if anybody needed a reminder that the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway sits just to the west.

The Spartans even had a two-seat IndyCar in their police escort when they arrived in town Wednesday night. When their caravan came to a stop, athletic director Mark Hollis popped out of one of the rear seat and pulled off his helmet.

''I couldn't believe he was actually in there,'' Michigan State forward Denzel Valentine said with a smile. ''I was kind of jealous.''

- Dave Skretta

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IT'S OK IF YOU'RE FRIENDS: There promises to be at least one Buckeye cheering for Sparty on Saturday night.

A high-profile one, too.

You see, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Michigan State point guard Travis Trice have been best friends since the fourth grade, when they played just about every sport together. They even partnered up on the same AAU team, two freakish athletes in a dynamic backcourt tandem.

But by the time they had reached high school in Huber Heights, Ohio, it was clear where their futures lay.

Miller had by that point become one of the nation's most sought-after football prospects, coaches flocking to Wayne High School to see him play. Trice had also played quarterback growing up, but as the star point guard for the Warriors, he began to hear from colleges who wanted him to focus on hoops.

Their paths diverged again when Miller chose to stay home and play for the Buckeyes, and Trice accepted an offer from coach Tom Izzo to head to Michigan State.

''Honestly, I never wanted to go to Ohio State,'' Trice said. ''In Ohio, you're a diehard Ohio State fan or you don't really like them. I was sort of in the middle.''

Trice said he roots for the Buckeyes primarily to support his buddy - except when they're playing the Spartans. And considering Michigan State is playing Duke in Saturday night's national semifinals, you can bet that Miller will be rooting on the Spartans, too.

-Dave Skretta

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Find more sights, sounds and images from AP's journalists inside the Final Four at Inside the Madness at collegebasketball.ap.org/insidethemadness.

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