Earlier this season, Indiana was in last place in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers weren't playing well and Coach Bobby Knight was frustrated.

Now, Knight has the biggest grin in the Midwest. His Hoosiers won their last eight games and 10 of their last 11 to tie Minnesota for second place in the conference and gobble up an at large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Indiana is also in the weakest region of all - the East - with La Salle, Penn, Rhode Island, Duke, Furman, Villanova and St. Bonaventure. With that competition, Indiana is in excellent position to get to the final four in St. Louis on March 25.

"I am pleased," was Knight's reaction to all of that.

Knight is considered by his peers to be on of the nation's top coaches and this Indiana team illustrates why.

Two seasons ago, with a starting line up of Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner, Scott May, Tom Abernethy and Bobby Wilkerson, Indiana was 32-0 and won the national championship.

Last year the Hoosiers fell to 14-13. Yet after their horrendous start this year they finished 20-7. And they did it without an all-star on the team. There aren't even any first-team All-Big Ten players, let alone any All-Americas on the Indiana team, and only guards Jim Wisman and Wayne Radford, then substitutes, played much on the national championship team.

Radford, a 6-foot-3 playground-type player who adapted to Knight's controlled system, is averaging 15.2 points for the season, but 21.5 in the last 11 games. Wisman is the primary ball handler.

When it comes to Indiana's offense the team leader is 6-5 sophomore forward Mark Woodson, who is averaging 19.5 points a game and is likely Indiana's best all-round player. He is a tremendous leaper who can take the ball to the basket or hit outside jumpers. He works well without the ball and Indiana does a good job of getting it to him when he gets open.

Indiana's improvement during the season coincided with the maturation of 6-9 freshman center Ray Tolbert. He was shooting 34 percent from the field and struggling through the first part of the season, but shot 51 percent over the last 18 games and is Indiana's top rebounder. He is averaging nearly 11 top points a game.

Freshmen Steve Risley and Tommy Baker and sophomore Butch Carter alternate as the fifth starter.

This year's team doesn't have as much inside strength and is not a run-and-gun team but one that looks for open shots from a set offense.

Indiana had little hope of an NCAA bid as recently as two years ago. Then Minnesota and Purdue started having troubles and the Hoosiers knew that if they won their last two games they had a chance.

They won those two games, beating Iowa and Illinois on the road while Purdue lost its last two games. That left Indiana tied with Minnesota for second place in the league with a 12-6 conference record behind Michigan State.

Based on the relative overall strength of the Big Ten, it was almost a sure thing that the NCAA selection committee would give one of its 11 available at-large berths to a second conference team. And with Minnesota ineligible for postseason play, Indiana got the nod.

The only team the Hoosiers lost to in the last weeks was ninth-ranked Michigan State in Lansing. They beat the Spartans at Indiana earlier in the season and also defeated Purdue, Minnesota, Alabama and Notre Dame.