On Thursday morning, I decided to post some thoughts on Twitter regarding the Big Ten and its outlook for this postseason. In particular, I gave a breakdown of where I see the conference for NCAA Tournament bids.
Here was my projection:
1/26 Big Ten NCAA Tournament Bracketology:
- Locks: Purdue, Wisconsin
- Virtual Locks: Maryland
- Likely: Minnesota, Northwestern
- Bubble: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State
- Work To Do: Illinois
- Fringe: Ohio State
Now, I’m not going to go in-depth on all of those selections (you can follow me on Twitter for that delight), but there was one projection that I want to dive into. Specifically, the one that got the most push back from my followers.
And that’s Indiana.
It seemed like a lot of Hoosier fans and others were taken aback by me considering Indiana an NCAA bubble team. After all, this is the same Indiana that has already taken down Illinois, Kansas, Michigan State, and North Carolina this season.
So, how could I possibly consider Indiana as a bubble team?
It was an interesting discussion and one I would like to dive into now. Let’s get into why exactly the Hoosiers should be considered a bubble team.
1. Indiana’s Non-Conference Resume Is Much Weaker Than You Think.
Undoubtedly, there’s nothing that gets thrown around more by Hoosier fans right now than Indiana’s wins against Kansas and North Carolina earlier this season. And let’s not avoid that topic. Those are very good wins, especially considering that the win against the Jayhawks came on a neutral court.
But let’s not forget that Indiana played 13 non-conference games.
Not just two.
Despite those two great wins against Kansas and UNC, there’s not much else to like about Indiana’s remaining slate. During the team’s other 11 non-con games, Indiana went 8-3 with all eight wins coming against teams outside the RPI’s top 200 teams.
Yes, you read that right.
Eight of Indiana’s 10 non-conference wins came against 200+ RPI teams.
To put into perspective, consider that Rutgers is rated No. 137 on KenPom right now. That means that more than 60 percent of Indiana’s non-conference slate was against teams that were substantially worse than Rutgers. And that’s saying something.
Everybody is going to play some bad teams in non-conference play, but Indiana made an effort to load its non-conference slate with hot garbage. And no matter what Indiana does going forward, this is going to be a weight around the team’s neck.
2. Big Ten Play Hasn’t Been Great For Indiana So Far.
Unfortunately, things haven’t improved all that much in Big Ten play either. Indiana is currently 4-3 in conference play with two home losses, including an embarrassing loss to Nebraska at home in December. Unlike last year, Indiana hasn’t started off its Big Ten slate with a bang.
Now, there have been some good moments. That blowout win against Illinois was nice and Indiana’s ability to hold off a comeback run against Michigan State was a a huge mental and emotional win for the program. But it’s just that these moments have been largely outweighed by the team’s lackluster play so far.
Indiana will have plenty of chances to overcome this rough start, but until it starts getting wins, it’s hard to feel too confident, especially with a bunch of difficult road games pending. After all, Indiana has only gone 1-2 on the road this season.
3. The Path Ahead Is Not An Easy One.
But even with Indiana’s lackluster non-conference schedule and its mixed start to Big Ten play, nothing should be more concerning for Hoosier fans than what awaits next on the schedule. That’s because Indiana’s spot in the NCAA Tournament will be made or eliminated in the next few weeks.
Not only does KenPom project Indiana to go 6-5 over its last 11 games, but Indiana will get seven road games, including five road games against teams rated above Indiana or within 15 spots on KenPom. In short, there aren’t going to be many guaranteed wins left anywhere on the schedule.
Maybe that’s a pessimistic approach, but Indiana figures to be an underdog in six remaining games and a narrow favorite in two more. Barring substantial improvement or regression from Indiana, that’s going to put the team right around the 20-win mark entering the Big ten Tournament. And considering that weak non-conference slate, that’s essentially the definition of an NCAA bubble team.
Indiana has plenty of time to make a run in the coming weeks and months, but if the team’s performance has shown us anything, it’s that Hoosier fans need to acknowledge that Indiana is a bubble team this season. The question will just be about how things change for the Hoosiers going forward.