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Indiana could be closer to the NCAA Tournament field than you think

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I don’t want to talk about it either— but we have to.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve killed and buried this season at least three times in the last month. At the time, it didn’t feel like we were doing anything outlandish. The team was losing every game they played and didn’t look like a team that had any interest, let alone the ability, to yank themselves off the mat and make things interesting.

When Indiana got ran out of The Barn on an otherwise fine Saturday afternoon, everyone else seemed to finally agree. Even the most stubborn holdouts relented that the Hoosiers had burned up their last chance and would not be dancing this season.

And then things got increasingly more bizarre from there.

First, Purdue came to town and Indiana dragged them down into the mud and made them scratch and claw out a 48-46 victory. Indiana did not play well, but they showed a lot more fight and interest than they had in a long time. A lot of that could be explained by playing a big rival at home, and the fact they came up just short made one think they were in danger of deflating entirely.

But they didn’t. They marched into Iowa City and held a six point lead with two minutes in change left int he game before succumbing in overtime. When you lose as many games in as short of a time as Indiana had, you don’t give a lot of praise for moral victories, but the fact remains that Indiana had been showing signs that better days were ahead.

And then, finally, the payout comes with a win over Wisconsin in Assembly Hall— defined by Romeo Langford’s decision to do what he does best as time was running out (smoothly attacking the rim with his right hand) as opposed to what he struggles at (long-distance jumpshots).

Now Indiana has one of the more bizarre résumés, I’ll let this tweet do the heavy-lifting:

Indiana has the kind of wins that a tournament team usually has. They have some elite pelts with a road win over Michigan State and a win over Wisconsin. The wins over Marquette and Louisville have aged like fine wine. Indiana, despite our feelings to the contrary, doesn’t have what the Committee is going to define as a “bad loss.” Getting curbstomped by Minnesota and beaten by Rutger (in anything) feel like bad losses when they happen, but the fact is neither of those teams are horrible.

The Hoosiers issue is just the sheer number of losses. They’re the bizarro version of 2018 Oklahoma. That Sooners team played balls out, offense-at-any-costs turbo-basketball led by a marketable freshman phenom who was a surefire lottery pick. Indiana plays more deliberate, hanging their hat on defense, but also has a freshman lottery pick roaming around their backcourt,

Those Sooners also made the NCAA Tournament, albeit controversially, with an 18-13 (8-10) record. And their resume contains a lot of similarities to this year’s iteration of the Indiana Hoosiers. They had less wins than any other at-large team and only two had more losses. Fans across the nation bemoaned the Sooners not only getting in, but evading the First Four altogether. They finished 48th on KenPom and had lost 8 of 10, including a first round exit in their conference tournament.

But despite all of that, Oklahoma successfully navigated their entire season without the proverbial Bad Loss while playing the 5th hardest schedule in the country (per KenPom). Indiana, who currently sits (hilariously) at 48th on KenPom, has also avoided the Bad Loss and are playing the 7th hardest schedule.

This is not to say that Indiana is as safely in the field as Oklahoma turned out to be. The Bracket Matrix currently has about ten teams in front of the Hoosiers, but there are still games left to play. If Indiana can reach 18 wins— we might just have to tune in on Selection Sunday. And if the Hoosiers improbably get a bid, we’ll have to immediately tune into Twitter to watch at least one fanbase have a big time meltdown about it.

It is worth noting, however, that we’ve been here before. We all wanted to believe Indiana was going to use their win over Michigan State in East Lansing as a launching pad to turn their season around and instead they lost five straight games. There are no sure things with this team. Home games against those same Spartans and Rutger, along with a road date against Illinois before they have to face their annual demons in the Big Ten Tournament.

Things are far from guaranteed, hell they just barely qualify as possible, but the door has cracked open, ever so slightly, again.

Can the Hoosiers, finally, take advantage?