Let there be no doubt - the Indiana Hoosiers have had an incredibly disappointing season. Yes, they lost most of last year's team to the pros. Yes, they are extremely young and raw basketball players. However, look at Michigan who won the B1G going away this year. They lost a lot to the pros as well and also had to deal with Mitch McGary barely playing at all this year. The Wolverines are almost a carbon copy of what Indiana should have been this year from a fan's perspective. Maybe Indiana isn't talented enough to win the B1G title, but it is surely more talented than 8th place in the B1G right?
That is what Indiana fans have to put their hopes on in this year's Big Ten Tournament. It will essentially be a home environment at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, but that hasn't really helped the Hoosiers in the past who have been constantly dismal at the arena, whether it be the BTT or the Crossroads Classic. What most people likely don't realize is that Indiana has never won a Big Ten Tournament title, and has only finished runner up one time (2001 loss to Iowa). Given the history of the program, most would likely assume Indiana has at least won one title - but it hasn't happened yet. Indiana will need to win the 2014 version of the tournament in order to make it into the NCAA dance.
So....can Indiana win it? That is the only question that really matters to the fan base, although most of the base is already mentally preparing to watch the Hoosiers in the NIT this year. The Hoosiers have beaten Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Iowa this year which would lead you to believe they have a real shot. However, it is who the Hoosiers didn't beat that is the real perplexing point of this 2013-14 campaign - Northwestern at home, Penn State at home, Nebraska at home, and Purdue on the road. With those four wins, the Hoosiers would be sitting in 4th place in the B1G and all would be right with Hoosier Nation. Given these points though, maybe Indiana should be most worried with the first game of the tournament against #9 Illinois. After all, it is the bottom tier teams that the Hoosiers have struggled against the most. The Hoosiers lost a heartbreaker in overtime against the Fighting Illini to tip off the B1G season in December, but were able to defeat them at home in an ugly game at the end of January. Both teams are playing pretty good basketball right now and Illinois will be coming off of a shocking road win at Iowa on senior night. The Hoosiers are way more talented than Illinois and this should be a game they win if they can hang on to the basketball - but we all know that is a big "if" as no one has been better at giving the ball away than Indiana this year.
Let's pretend Indiana gets by Illinois. Up next would be #1 Michigan. This likely isn't the matchup that Michigan would like to see in their first game of the tournament. No one has played Michigan better this year than the Hoosiers. The Wolverines got shellacked in Bloomington earlier this year and almost were upset on Senior Night in Ann Arbor on Saturday where they hung on to a four point victory. If this game goes to a "neutral court" (likely to be dominated by Hoosier faithful), I don't think it is too far out on the limb to say Indiana could win this game as well. The other great news for Hoosier fans is Wisconsin and Michigan State are relegated to the other side of the bracket, which means the 3rd game would likely be against Nebraska (#4 seed) or Ohio State (#5 seed). Indiana beat Ohio State in their only meeting this year and even though Indiana has struggled in both games against Nebraska, there would not be any complaints from Hoosier Nation as the matchup is much less scary than Wisconsin or MSU. Yes, Nebraska did win at IU just last week, but they have been woeful at times away from home this season. Even if Indiana does get by OSU or Nebraska to play in the title game, it would still have to likely beat either a hot Wisconsin club or arguably the most talented team in the B1G in Michigan State. Any other matchup would be an absolute gift to the Hoosiers.
So in short, the chances of Indiana running the table aren't too high, but that is stating the obvious. If there is anything we have learned this season, especially in conference play, it is to expect the unexpected and be ready to adapt to the changing circumstances. And that is what Hoosier Nation has to hope this Indiana team can accomplish this week up the road in Indianapolis.