Indiana University basketball is probably one of the most storied programs in history, but the Hoosiers are anything but guaranteed a spot in this year’s tournament. After making the Sweet Sixteen in 2013, the team failed to earn a spot in the big dance last year, and finds itself on the bubble this season.
Unlike last year, however, Indiana looks like it may actually have a shot at drawing a berth this time around.
Let’s start with their record. Head coach Tom Crean’s team have a fairly modest overall record of 19-11, and their 9-8 Big Ten mark has them ranked fourth in the conference, behind a four-way tie for third place involving Ohio State, Iowa, Purdue and Michigan State. In a field as competitive as the Big Ten, it’s clearly been tough for the Hoosiers to stand out after losing key players like Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Noah Vonleh to the NBA over the last two years.
But Indiana has still prevailed this season. Despite its modest record, the team has managed to come away with some key signature wins that keep them in the tournament discussion.
On November 20, they beat Larry Brown’s Southern Methodist Mustangs on the back of 27 points and seven boards from freshman guard James Blackmon, Jr, plus an 18-5 second half run.
Just one month later, they defeated in-state rival Butler on the road thanks to 20 points from the ever clutch Yogi Ferrell and a double-double from Troy Williams. The fact that this gave Coach Crean his 300th career win was just the icing on the cake.
The most important wins, however, came on January 10 in a strong defensive effort against the Ohio State Buckeyes, and on January 22 against Maryland, who currently ranks second in the conference. In the latter game, Indiana shot a red-hot 60 percent from the floor and 15 of 22 from three-point range en route to an 89-70 win. With wins like those, it’s hard to justify keeping them out of the tournament.
Or is it?
Based on recent play, the Hoosiers look like anything but a tournament-caliber squad. They have lost three of four, including one to the mediocre Northwestern Wildcats on February 25, and their last regular season game is against the ever tough and feisty Michigan State Spartans, who defeated them in East Lansing back in January. Indiana is also not even in the top 50 of the RPI rankings, giving them even more of an uphill battle.
That said, it is vitally important that one of two things happen. Either Indiana needs to keep tomorrow’s game against the Spartans close from start to finish, win or lose, or they need to catch fire in a bottle during the Big Ten Tournament and go on a significant enough run that leaving them out of the tournament becomes a travesty.
Doing so is certainly possible. Ferrell is a phenomenal leader on the floor and has a knack for making clutch shots at the perfect time. Despite his age, Blackmon has shown unbelievable poise, and is well on his way to becoming one of the better scoring guards in college basketball. On the defensive end, Williams plays with the tenacity and drive of someone much larger than 6’7″, 206 pounds.
Long story short, this team has a core group of players that can definitely put together the momentum needed for a run, and get the Hoosiers back where they belong: in the NCAA tournament.
But that’s not up to us. It all comes down to the selection committee and with Selection Sunday just over a week away, one can only hope that Indiana’s accomplishments this season ultimately outnumber its flaws and shortcomings.
*Section Photo credit to Andy Lyons, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Pat Lovell, USA Today Sports