- IU vs. Ohio State, 12:30 p.m., Thursday, BTN
BLOOMINGTON – For the first time in three years, Indiana fans have the right to ask the question again.
The NCAA tournament hasn’t included the Hoosiers since their last conference-title season in 2016. An NIT appearance, a coaching change, a rebuilding year and this boom-and-bust campaign have come and gone since IU could be taken seriously in conversations about the field of 68.
Talking about this Indiana team’s tournament chances seemed like wasted breath as recently as two weeks ago, yet coach Archie Miller’s team now finds itself firmly on the bubble, heading into the postseason.
Which prompts that question, one even the most optimistic fans probably wouldn’t have imagined asking until more or less right now: What does Indiana have to do to get into the NCAA tournament?
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IU has won four games in a row entering Thursday’s Big Ten tournament game vs. Ohio State. (Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
“As a general point, I keep trying to reiterate that it isn’t a checklist where if you do certain things you are guaranteed to be in,” said Andy Bottoms, bracket expert for AssemblyCall.com. “It’s truly dependent not only on their own play, but also on the play of other bubble teams and probably most importantly, how conference tournaments play out.”
Bottoms is one of the highest-rated bracketologists tracked on a website called Bracket Matrix, which aggregates more than 100 projections around college basketball.
As of Tuesday morning, Bracket Matrix’s aggregation projected Indiana as the top team among the field of 68’s “first four out,” meaning essentially the Hoosiers were the first team cut out of the field, on average.
And whatever their fate on selection Sunday, there’s no doubt the Hoosiers travel to Chicago this week in a precarious NCAA tournament position.
The Hoosiers own six Quadrant 1 wins, and aren’t saddled with any losses to teams in Quadrants 3 or 4. Many of those wins look sturdy, and none of IU’s losses stand a real chance of dropping to Quads 3 or 4.
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Justin Smith, De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green and Al Durham of IU basketball discusses what they expect in the Big Ten tournament.
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On the other hand, Indiana is 17-14. The Hoosiers at one point lost 12 of 13 this winter, and finished Big Ten play four games under .500 in conference. Theirs is a resume of extremes.
“I actually think Indiana sits in a pretty good spot entering the Big Ten tournament,” said ESPN’s Jeff Borzello. “The question with the Hoosiers was never their lack of good wins or an overwhelming number of bad losses — it was their overall win-loss record, plain and simple. It’s not a huge factor in the committee room, but they’re just not going to take a team that’s .500 or one game above .500, or at least they’ve never shown an interesting in doing that.
“So now that Indiana is three games above .500, their profile is better than a lot of the other true bubble teams: six Quadrant 1 wins, zero Quadrant 3 or 4 losses. It’s not an open-and-shut case by any means, though. They have a poor nonconference strength of schedule, an awful road record and they’re just 8-14 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents. Fortunately for Indiana, they have a chance to secure things in the Big Ten tournament.”
The importance of this week/weekend in a nutshell for Indiana: Starting with Thursday’s game against Ohio State, the Hoosiers will have chances to add significant wins to their resume. Their game with the Buckeyes also offers the chance to match up with another bubble team, just days from selection Sunday.
Justin Smith, De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green and Al Durham of IU basketball assess matchup against Ohio State
Zach Osterman, email@example.com
Indiana’s task this weekend almost certainly starts with a win against Ohio State.
“With Ohio State, I feel like it’s a true elimination game for Indiana,” said John Gasaway, who also works for ESPN and tracks the bubble closely. “It would take the committee surprising us — and they do, and they have; they did last year — but it would take that kind of surprise to get Indiana in with a loss to Ohio State. And then even with a win against Ohio State, I don’t think the work is done, at 18-14. I think it’s a two-win situation, and then they can see where they fall at that point.”
A win Thursday would mean a third meeting with Michigan State, the team IU has to thank as much as any for its residence on the bubble to begin with.
Indiana’s victories over the Spartans — in East Lansing on Feb. 2 and in Bloomington two weeks ago — stand as the Hoosiers’ two strongest wins so far. Michigan State was ranked No. 8 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, as of Tuesday night, and No. 4 on Ken Pomeroy. Beating the co-Big Ten champion Spartans a third time would probably cement IU’s place in the field of 68.
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But there’s an added layer for Indiana, and every other bubble team in the field: bid thieves.
One of college basketball’s delightful slang terms, bid thieves are teams from conferences that would otherwise only have one or two at-large candidates, who sneak into the field by winning their conference tournaments.
Bubble teams all over the country dodged one such bullet when Wofford — all but certain for an at-large bid whether it won the Southern Conference or not — staved off UNC-Greensboro in its conference tournament final. They weren’t so lucky Tuesday night, when Saint Mary’s shocked Gonzaga to take the West Coast Conference’s automatic bid.
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Justin Smith, De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green and Al Durham of IU basketball discuss the team’s health entering the Big Ten tournament.
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Gasaway listed the Atlantic 10, the Mid-American Conference and the Pac-12 among the conferences ripe for bid thieves. Fans of bubble teams, IU’s included, will want to pull hard for VCU, Buffalo, Arizona State and Washington this week.
Mitigating circumstances — specifically Indiana’s raft of injury problems midseason — could also factor into the selection committee’s thinking.
In the past, the committee has factored injuries into its deliberations when reviewing teams for both inclusion and seeding. That might be easier for a team like Duke, and a high-profile injury like the one suffered late in the regular season by star forward Zion Williamson. But IU’s injury problems can be considered as part of the Hoosiers’ profile.
“It’s not like they’re going to say, ‘OK Indiana, you had injuries, and so we’ll let you in the field, and otherwise we wouldn’t.’ But it’s part of the discussion in the room,” Gasaway said, “and then they go to their trackpads and they vote the way they vote, informed by that discussion, and I think it will definitely come up with Indiana and several other teams in a significant way.”
Ultimately, IU’s destiny remains in its own hands. Winning the Big Ten tournament (something the Hoosiers have never done) would obviously answer the question emphatically, with an automatic bid. Realistically, two wins would probably sew up Indiana’s candidacy, at which point the Hoosiers would be playing for seeding.
As unlikely as it seemed a month ago, Indiana enters conference tournament weekend with so much to play for. And as extreme as the Hoosiers’ season might have been, USA TODAY bracketologist Shelby Mast might have said it best when he described the Hoosiers’ outlook simply: “They just need to get as many wins as possible in the Big Ten tournament, and hope for other bubble teams to lose early.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.
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INDIANA VS. OHIO STATE
Tipoff: 12:30 p.m., Thursday, United Center, Chicago.
TV/Radio: BTN/WIBC-93.1 FM.