Indiana is known as the basketball state. Stories are told about the legends that came before and the gyms that are packed by rabid fans in every corner of the state. But these legends and fans may not have any thing to cheer about in March this year at the college basketball level. It has been well documented the struggles some of the state schools are going through. After this weekend though, the state that prides itself on the quality of basketball it has is at risk of completely missing the NCAA tournament.
The state is home to ten Division I basketball programs across seven conferences. At the current time only three of these ten teams have winning conference records and most of these teams are looming somewhere in the bottom half of their league’s standings. The lone bright spots are Indiana State, IPFW, and Valparaiso. These teams are near the top in their respective conferences with Valpo actually with a chance of winning the regular season crown. The issue with these squads and an NCAA tournament bid is that all three will have to win their conference tournament to secure an automatic bid. None of these teams would be awarded an at-large bid. Putting all three teams in a tough position to have to win multiple games just to get in.
The marquee intra-state match up has always been Purdue and Indiana. That game took place Saturday in West Lafayette with the Boilermakers completely dominating IU 82-64. Of the “big boys” in this state, most people adhere to one of these two schools. They have be the dominate programs throughout history in this state. They are both going through a less than stellar season. Going into the game on Saturday they had identical 14-10 records and were 4-7 in the Big Ten. Even with this win, Purdue has a lot of work to do just to get in the NCAA tournament discussion.
The next two schools to look at our Notre Dame and Butler. Both of these teams moved to new conferences this year and have struggled. Notre Dame has gone into the ACC and have not performed as hoped sitting at 5-8 in the league. They have also dealt with a lot of upheaval within the program. Butler left the “mid-major” ranks this year to join the Big East. This step up has not gone well for the Bulldogs. They are just 2-11 in conference and are at risk of their first overall losing record in 9 years.
The remaining teams are all middle to lower level teams in their conferences and would have to go on a miracle run to win their conference tournaments. Ball State, IUPUI, and Evansville have struggled for various reasons but the results have been similar. Evansville has been the best of this group but have an incredibly young team. They are building for next year. IUPUI has been down the past several years. Last year suffering through injuries and this year just not playing consistently. Ball State is under first year head coach James Whitford. They are looking to the future in Muncie and Whitford has hit the recruiting trail hard.
So this begs the questions- What is going on? and How does it get corrected? The easy answer is that all of these programs are just having bad years. That all of them have the chance to get back on track next year. In some cases that is true. Indiana State has been the beacon of hope this year and have put together a very solid four year run under Greg Lansing’s guidance. Along with Valpo they are the best two chances the state has at NCAA appearances. Both teams are in second place in their respective conferences, but will each have to win their conference tournaments to sneak in. Most people would talk about the struggles of IU, Purdue, Notre Dame, and Butler being the biggest issues. Each fan base has different reasons they will offer about why each program is down. The simple rebuttal is that none of these four teams are that good. Whether it be coaching, young players, player turnover, or injuries the fact remains that these are not the caliber of teams we are used to seeing at these institutions. Overall, there is a lack of confidence right now. Losing can do that to a team. Doubt creeps into their minds and makes it difficult when the going gets tough. The answer to how this gets corrected is probably one of two options. Either your team gets hot and closes the season strong. Building up the confidence level of the players, coaches, and fans. Or you start building for next year now. Get the young players on the team the reps they will need to gain experience. The coaches can look at different player combinations and what may work moving forward. That is always a tough pill to swallow, but when the postseason is very nearly out of the question you start playing now as if you are playing for the future.
Let us all hope that when the calendar turns to March some magic happens statewide and we get some surprises via the conference tournaments. Our attention will be kept in Arch Madness rooting on the Sycamores and in the Horizon League tournament for Valpo. Maybe one of the major conference teams get hot at the right time. We will see but as for now this could be a dark season in Indiana college basketball history.
Follow me on Twitter @thadvandeventer.