There are a lot of things that Hoosier fans are thinking about these days. Maybe they're thinking about that big win over Wisconsin, that terrible loss to Northwestern, or maybe even the unexpected transfer of true freshman Luke Fischer. Without a doubt, it's been a pretty up and down season in Bloomington. Things have seemed to go right at times, but have seemed to go in the opposite direction just as often. There have been many things that have been exciting, but also frustrating.
After last year's Big Ten Championship and second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance, there are probably a lot of fans out there that feel a little unsettled twenty games into the season. The potential has been there all year, but the product just has not quite been there when it counts. During the entire non-conference season, Indiana fought desperately to secure that marquee win, but fell short. Now in Big Ten play, Indiana has scored some big wins, but still sit at an underwhelming 3-4 in Big Ten play with the team's first bad loss of the season to Northwestern.
Despite all of this, there is still one thing that remains on the minds of just about every Hoosier fan: Can Indiana make the NCAA Tournament? The answer here is a complex one that has many moving parts. As any college basketball fan will know, the field is not set in January. The season may be more than half over, but Indiana still isn't even halfway through conference play. A lot of things can change, but there are 3 things worth understanding about a potential Hoosier tourney run:
1. Indiana Has Work To Do
Whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about Indiana's chances to make the NCAA Tournament, there is one thing you must accept. Indiana has a lot of work cut out for them. Not only are there still a lot of games left, but it's the positioning that they're in right now that is important to consider. Right now, Joe Lunardi doesn't even have Indiana in the list of 8 teams that are near misses. CBS has a more optimistic outlook, but still do not have the Hoosiers making the big dance.
Indiana not only needs to win games that are ahead of them, but they are also going to need some help. People talk about making the bubble a non-issue, but this could be a bad sign for Indiana's case. If they lose many more games, they're going to be outside of realistic tourney consideration. The Hoosiers have to turn the tide right now and start reeling off wins. Upsetting teams like Michigan may not be completely necessary quite yet, but they do need to turn just about every manageable game into a win. Thursday's game against Nebraska will need to be just a start.
2. There Is Still Hope
As much as Indiana may be flirting with the outer confines of the bubble, the Hoosiers may be in a better position than many assume. First, look at that schedule. There are a ton of tough games, but that also means a lot of opportunities to get big wins and many of them come at home. Just look at Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State at home. If Indiana even managed to go 2-1 in that stretch, the entire season could look different and if they go 3-0, perhaps they lock up a tourney spot. Nobody knows what it will take in terms of wins to get in, but it's hard not to see the potential for a huge jump heading into March.
The other thing worth noting is Indiana's youth. This is a team that is incredibly young and many of the players are still finding their roles at the college level. The Hoosiers have more potential than almost any teams out there in college basketball. Maybe they aren't quite as stacked as a Kentucky, but the talent just drips off this roster. If you need a late run to get in, wouldn't you rather have Indiana's youthful roster than many of the others? Not only can they improve for the big games ahead, but they have the potential to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament as well. Many forget about the Big Ten Tournament, but plenty of teams have gotten in through those games. Nothing is assured, but if Indiana keeps growing, making a run really isn't that crazy.
3. They've Got To Upset Somebody
There is no set formula for tourney selection, but a general rule that does seem to work is the balancing of good wins and bad losses. Indiana knocked off that big upset of Wisconsin, but followed it up with a devastating loss to Northwestern on their home court. If anything, Indiana may have done more damage in that week by losing to Northwestern than they did by beating Wisconsin. Considering that, the Hoosiers have to beat somebody at the top end of the Big Ten to really get back into the race.
There are a few opportunities to do this, but perhaps none show up better than the home game against Michigan. The Wolverines have been playing exceptionally, but are coming out of a gauntlet. Plus, they will only get a few days off after playing Purdue before coming into Bloomington. The matchups may not be the best, but Will Sheehey could be a guy who could slow down Nik Stauskas and Yogi Ferrell has a good shot at slowing down Derrick Walton. The Hoosiers will be the underdog, but a win would be huge.
Indiana is not in the best shape as far as NCAA Tournament selection goes, but there are more than enough opportunities ahead to make the big dance. Maybe it's not realistic to assume they can get enough wins, but I do feel comfortable in projecting them at least to be on the bubble. Unfortunately, their inconsistency might be their downfall as they have been great against some teams and weak against others. These next few weeks are going to be massive in determining the outcome of Indiana's season.