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Indiana looks for strong finish to aid Big Ten seeding, NCAA hopes

With seven games left, the Hoosiers have put themselves in great shape for an NCAA Tournament berth. But a big final two weeks could help improve their Big Ten seeding and lock up an NCAA bid.

Two weeks ago, Indiana sat in 6th place in the Big Ten standings after back-to-back series wins over Minnesota and Michigan and were squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Six wins in eight games since, including a series win over then-Big Ten leader Maryland, had put the Hoosiers on the 2-seed line in the Lexington Regional.  (When releases their newest projections this week, there is not much reason to expect the projection for Indiana to have changed.)

But of those six wins, only two came in Big Ten play, and the Hoosiers have sat idle in 6th place. But a ton of movement ahead of them has put a wide range of Big Ten Tournament seeding into play.

Big Ten Race

Just two weeks ago, Maryland had total control of the Big Ten race. But after the Hoosiers took two of three from the Terps in Bloomington, Maryland stunningly dropped a series to lowly Illinois to fall out of first place. Now, Nebraska controls its own destiny, sitting 0.5 game ahead of Minnesota thanks to a tie in Bloomington several weeks ago. And with series left vs. Michigan State and at Penn State, the Huskers look primed to return to Bart Kaufman Field as the 1-seed.

But below Nebraska, six teams are within 2.5 games, and just 0.5 game separates 3rd place from 7th place in the loss column.

Team Overall Record B1G Record

B1G Opp. Remaining

1 Nebraska 29-16-1 12-5-1 MSU, PSU
2 Minnesota 29-15 12-6 RUT, PUR
3 Maryland 32-15 14-7 NW
4 Michigan 36-11 11-7 PUR, MSU

Iowa 29-17 11-7 OSU, ILL
6 Indiana 27-18-2 10-7-1 PSU, OSU
7 Purdue 26-20 10-8 MICH, MINN
8 Northwestern 19-27 8-10 MD, RUT

Michigan State 25-19 8-10 NEB, MICH
10 Illinois 21-24 7-11 RUT, IOWA
11 Ohio State 19-29 6-12 IOWA, IU
12 Rutgers 17-28 5-10 ILL, NW
13 Penn State 15-32 2-16 IU, NEB

It's hard to imagine any of the top-3 teams in the standings changing positions given their remaining schedules. But if Indiana or Iowa can win out, either of them could potentially pass Michigan and move into the 4-seed, assuming that Purdue gets back on track and can take just one game from the Wolverines. As for the bottom of the bracket, Michigan State and Northwestern both face tough opponents this coming weekend. But Northwestern has a clear edge on the final weekend, as the Wildcats will face lowly Rutgers, while Sparty will see in-state rival Michigan.

As of now, here are the Crimson Quarry projections:

(1) Nebraska vs. (8) Northwestern

Nebraska may drop one to Michigan State this weekend, but we expect that Minnesota will drop a game against Purdue. Assuming that both chalk the other five games on their schedule, that would put the Huskers at the top of the Big Ten bracket. As for the Wildcats, the advantage they hold over Michigan State in scheduling looks sufficient for them to grab the final spot.

(4) Indiana vs. (5) Michigan

Maybe it's a bit of homerism, but it's hard to imagine that this Hoosier ball club will drop a game over the final two weekends. Again, putting a little bit of faith in Purdue to find a way to win one against Michigan, that would allow Indiana to push past the Wolverines in the standings. Just one Iowa loss, then, would put the Hoosiers on the 4-seed line and make Michigan the 5-seed, creating the marquee matchup of day one of the Big Ten Tournament.

(3) Maryland/Minnesota vs. (6) Iowa

Maryland will snap out their funk and sweep Northwestern and remain ahead of Indiana based on win percentage thanks to the Indiana tie against Nebraska, which will be enough for the Terps to stay on the 3-seed line. But that will leave them with a much tougher first round matchup than they imagined a few weeks ago when it looked like they would see Rutgers or Northwestern on day one. But it could be as a 2-seed. Maryland and Minnesota, we believe, will finish with identical 17-7 Big Ten records, and because they did not play each other this season, their seeding will depend on a tie-breaker.

(2) Minnesota/Maryland vs. (7) Purdue

All season, there has seemingly been a massive gap between the top seven teams and the bottom six teams. But Purdue has lost two of its last three Big Ten series, one to Rutgers and one to Northwestern, to raise questions about its ability to finish. And with series left against Michigan and Minnesota, there are no guaranteed wins left on the Boilers schedule. We assume they will take one game in each series, which would be plenty to get into the tournament. But if they go 0-6 and finish with a 10-14 record, Northwestern would need just two wins against Maryland and Rutgers to pass Purdue in the standings. The Wildcats seem likely to get two against Rutgers alone. Purdue's hopes, then, would come down to Michigan State. If Sparty got two wins, it would force a tie-breaking scenario for the final spot in the conference tournament.

For the Hoosiers, one or two wins should be sufficient to qualify for the tournament they are hosting. Five or six wins are far more likely.

NCAA Tournament Picture

The Hoosiers have been knocking on the door of the RPI Top-20 for a couple weeks now, and even after last night's loss to Kentucky they sit at 22. Still, though, no matter how high the Indiana RPI goes, the eye test will keep them from hosting a regional unless they can win five or six games down the stretch (including the Louisville game) and the Big Ten Tournament. That still might not be enough.

The bottom line for Indiana is that series wins over Penn State and Ohio State, and two or three wins in the Big Ten Tournament should be plenty to keep them on the second line and out of a national seed's regional. Ultimately, four or five wins is all they'll need to go dancing at all.