The Indiana Hoosiers have won three of their last four games bringing their season back to respectability. But is IU playing themselves onto the bubble and into the NCAA tournament? Yes and no are both acceptable answers to this question. I wanted to take a look at the case both for and against the Hoosiers as a legitimate NCAA tournament team and how they can get there.
The case for the Hoosiers is not as long as the case against. Fortunately for IU that is the case with most of the teams on the bubble. The bubble is weak this year which is why IU may get consideration anyway. The biggest selling point is quality wins. They have four wins against top 25 teams in the poll- #3 Wisconsin, #10 Michigan, #20 Iowa, and #22 Ohio State. The last two coming just last week. Those two victories also helped their strength of schedule which has risen to 54. Clearly not the best schedule but that is on par with most of the other bubble teams. The Ohio State win also came without the services of Noah Vonleh who sat out due to a foot injury. If the selection committee takes into consideration losses when players are out injured, should they consider wins in the same situation. Winning without one of their best players could give them a little extra credit.
The last thing that is a selling point for IU is their list of bad losses. Although they have four losses to teams outside of the RPI top 100, the worst they have done is a loss to #129. Theoretically these losses could be worse dragging them down farther. The fact that three of those four losses came in conference also maybe helps, but losing two of them at home probably negates that notion. One positive left is their remaining schedule. In the Big Ten, you get more opportunities to impress and IU has to take advantage of that now. This week they play Nebraska, a fellow bubble team, and at #12 Michigan plus the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis next week.
The case against the Hoosiers may be stronger right now, but as I stated before this is a weak bubble so they have a chance to play their way in. The biggest case against them is overall record and perception. Sitting at 17-12 overall and just 7-9 in the conference is not a strong position. A losing record in any conference is tough to overcome and when you couple that with the weak non-conference slate the Hoosiers went through that does not help. IU’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks 207. Bad losses can hurt Indiana as well. As stated before losing four games to teams outside the RPI top 100 is where IU sits now. That is not all bad but the fact that two of those took place at home really hurts. The next blemish is the record away from home. The Hoosiers are a lackluster 3-9 away from Bloomington with just two wins on an opponents’ home court. Those are not quality road wins either against Penn St. and Northwestern (the two teams outside the top 100 that won at IU).
Lastly the biggest strike against IU’s resume is their RPI. This is one of the major factors the selection committee will review. An RPI of 77 is very poor even on this soft bubble. Most of the other bubble watchers have RPI’s at least in the 50′s. A lot of this goes back to the weak non-conference schedule they played and the lack of a quality win out of the conference. Yes, they have four rock solid wins against ranked opponents, but in the only three outings against power conference teams outside of the Big Ten the Hoosiers did not get a win. One of those against a below average Notre Dame team on a neutral court. Losing by one to UConn in Madison Square Garden and getting pummeled on the road at Syracuse are good character building games but in black and white on your tournament resume the committee will not care.
So how does IU sneak into the dance? One may suggest having a friend boost you in through the bathroom window or you could play your way in. As mentioned before, they have two regular season games left plus the conference tournament. I believe they will have to win both games this week and then get at least to the B1G semifinals to have a chance at an at-large bid. Beating fellow bubble watcher Nebraska at home is where they have to start. That could also hurt Nebraska’s chances helping yours in the process. Then winning at #12 Michigan to close out the conference would be a huge victory. That would give IU at least one big road win on the docket to use as leverage. Finishing 9-9 would give them a seed anywhere between 4-8, but they will probably get 6 or 7. Playing the opening Thursday against one of the lesser teams in the conference is a must win. Coming back on Friday against Wisconsin or Michigan St. and getting a win is really when tournament talks can start. The semifinals would be a toss up by then possibly playing Michigan again. Winning these next four gives IU a six game winning streak and would put their record at 21-12 going into a semifinal game. If they can get to that point then I think they will have a serious tournament resume with five of those six wins coming against possible tournament teams.
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