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Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes remain intact

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Indiana has struggled to overcome injuries and sloppy play. Nonetheless, their tournament hopes are still intact.

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana’s struggles have been well-documented. After an exciting and superb start to the season, the Hoosiers have been unable to garner a big win since early December and find themselves mired in the middle of a weak Big Ten pack.

In the midst of all the outrage that accompanies an Indiana basketball team that is anything less than a championship contender, the word that you are sure to hear over the next few weeks is "bubble."

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s latest "Bracketology" update, Indiana would be one of the last four teams in to the 2017 NCAA Tournament. And during Sunday’s tough loss at Wisconsin, CBS commentator Clark Kellogg took it a step further and suggested that if it was up to him, Indiana wouldn’t make the dance because it’s not just about top-heavy wins, but it’s also about the volume of quality wins.

But what history suggests is that the selection committee does not share Kellogg’s view of volume being a prerequisite for earning an admission ticket. In fact, the committee’s past actions don’t suggest that Indiana is headed for a First Four game either. Last year, only two of the four teams that played in Dayton had more wins against the NCAA Tournament field than Indiana has to-date against Lunardi’s projected field. And this is in a year that Lunardi says is particularly weak, not just in the Big Ten, but across the country.

Take a look at the Hoosiers’ record against Lunardi’s projected field as compared to the last few years worth of teams that went to Dayton.

Team Overall Record Conf. Record (incl. tourney) Record vs. Field Last Win vs. Field
2017 Indiana 15-9 5-6 3-6 January 21
2016 Michigan 22-12 12-9 4-10 March 11
2016 Vanderbilt 19-13 11-9 4-7 February 27
2016 Tulsa 20-11 12-7 1-2 February 18
2016 Wichita State 24-8 18-3 1-6 November 17

Team Overall Record Conf. Record (incl. tourney) Record vs. Field Last win vs. Field
2017 Indiana 15-9 5-6 3-6 January 21
2015 Ole Miss 20-12 11-8 4-7 January 17
2015 BYU 24-10 15-6 1-5 February 28
2015 Dayton 25-8 15-6 2-3 February 28
2015 Boise State 25-8 15-5 2-4 March 4

Team Overall Record Conf. Record (incl. tourney) Record vs. Field Last Win vs. Field
2017 Indiana 15-9 5-6 3-6 January 21
2014 Iowa 19-13 9-10 4-8 February 8
2014 Xavier 21-12 11-9 3-7 March 1
2014 Tennessee 21-12 12-8 2-7 December 30
2014 NC State 21-13 11-10 3-9 March 14

What history shows is that Indiana's current standing would put them squarely on the bubble in years past, based solely on their record against the field. But Indiana has two things going for it.

First, the Hoosiers have four games remaining against teams currently projected in the field (Purdue, at Minnesota, Northwestern, and at Purdue), and five if Michigan finds a way into the dance (though that would add another loss against the field due to the result in Ann Arbor). Wins in just two of those games would give the Hoosiers more wins against the field than any of the last four in from the past three seasons. KenPom currently predicts that Indiana will one of those -- at home against Northwestern.

But imagine, if you will, a situation where the Hoosiers avenge road losses to Michigan and Northwestern, and pick up road wins at Minnesota and either at Iowa or at Ohio State, while losing twice to Purdue. That would leave Indiana 19-12, 9-9 in the Big Ten, and 5-8 against the field (if the projections remain the same). Not at all what Indiana fans would call acceptable, but certainly enough to get them into the field one would think. One win in the Big Ten Tournament (if the season ended today, Indiana would play Minnesota; the winner of that contest would face Purdue in the 3rd round) would give the Hoosiers a 20-win season and 10 conference wins. Given the name across the chest, Indiana gets in with that résumé.

Second, there's the matter to which Lunardi's tweet eluded. The rest of the country sucks too. For example:

  • Clemson, one of the other teams Lunardi lists on the last four in line, is 13-10, 3-8 in the ACC, and is 1-7 against the projected field to-date. Their last win against such a team was on December 31.
  • Kansas State, who Lunardi has one line ahead of the Hoosiers, as one of the last teams receiving a bye into the real tournament, is 16-8, 5-6 in the Big 12, and 3-6 against the field. Perhaps the only difference between Indiana and the Wildcats, on paper, is a loss to Fort Wayne.
  • Finally, let's look a little closer to home, and at a team that, according to Lunardi, is squarely in the field as an 8-seed. Michigan State is 14-10, 6-5 in the Big Ten. Sparty is 5-6 against teams projected in the field. Those wins include zero over teams in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll. (To be quite honest, it seems as if Michigan State is getting a pass to put them ahead of other clubs currently on the bubble due to their name and recent tournament success. What's that? Middle Tennessee what? Um...)
There is very little difference between being firmly on a seed line and being on the bubble. For Indiana, just a couple of wins against the four or five tournament-quality teams left on the schedule not only could, but should, be the difference between sweating it out before going to Dayton or the NIT and finding themselves squared away with an 8- or 9-seed come Selection Sunday.