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Can Indiana Earn An NCAA Bid In The Big Ten Tournament?

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What will the Hoosiers do in Chicago?

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There are several Big Ten teams hoping to earn at-large NCAA Tournament bids this weekend in the Big Ten Tournament and the Indiana Hoosiers are certainly one of those teams. After a dreadful performance to open the new year, Indiana is hoping to get hot and finish things off in Chicago to earn a bid to the Big Dance.

So, can Indiana get the job done? Let’s take a look.

-Opening Round

As the nine seed, Indiana will open up play on Thursday against Ohio State in what figures to be a really thrilling matchup. Both Indiana and Ohio State will head into Chicago as clear bubble teams and this one feels like a must win for both sides.

Heading into the game, Indiana clearly has all the momentum. The Hoosiers have won four in a row, including two wins against top 15 teams on KenPom. Meanwhile, Ohio State limped to the regular season finish line, losing six of its final eight games. The key factor leading to these struggles for the Buckeyes has been the absence of Kaleb Wesson. However, Wesson is expected to rejoin the team for Thursday’s matchup.

KenPom narrowly favors Indiana on Thursday, but this definitely has the feel of a pick ‘em game. The spread is just one point and both sides have been so inconsistent all season that it’s hard to feel confident either way. The returns of Rob Phinisee and Wesson also make many of the season statistics irrelevant for Thursday’s matchup.

And as noted, this game also holds massive implications for the NCAA Tournament bubble race. Indiana and Ohio State are both currently projected to be on the edge of the field, so a matchup between the two could very well be an elimination game. ESPN currently has Ohio State as the last team in and Indiana as the first team out.

The key matchup will be upfront. Can the Hoosiers find a way to slow down Wesson in his return? It will be up to Juwan Morgan to try. If Indiana can find some success there, this should be a win for the Hoosiers.

-If They Advance

Should Indiana win in what figures to be a tight matchup against Ohio State on Thursday, it will then face off against Michigan State on Friday afternoon. The Spartans enter the Big Ten Tournament as the one seed, having locked up a share of the Big Ten regular season title last weekend against Michigan.

On paper, there’s no denying that Michigan State is a better team. The Spartans are 25-6 overall, 16-4 in Big Ten play, and have won seven of the team’s last eight games. Michigan State is also fourth nationally on KenPom and the program hasn’t lost its Big Ten Tournament opener since 2010. That’s eight straight opening round wins for Michigan State in the conference tournament. An incredible accomplishment.

However, Indiana not only played well against Michigan State, but actually swept the regular season matchup between the two. The Hoosiers won in East Lansing on February 2nd and followed that up with another win in Bloomington on March 2nd. Both games were highly competitive, but the Hoosiers got some big performances from Romeo Langford and Justin Smith to grab two wins over the Spartans.

Beating an opponent three times in a single season is never easy and the Spartans would surely be hungry for revenge. Nonetheless, Indiana also would have to be confident in its chances of pulling off the upset, considering that it’s already done so twice this season.

Should Indiana beat Michigan State, it would then likely face Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals. The other potential opponents are Maryland, Nebraska, and Rutgers. Considering that the Hoosiers beat Rutgers at home just a few days ago by double-digits (and were winless against Maryland and Nebraska), fans will certainly be hoping that the Scarlet Knights can figure out a way to make it to Saturday.

But assuming it is Wisconsin, it’s going to be a tough matchup. Like Michigan State, we know the Badgers are a better team than the Hoosiers. Wisconsin is 12th nationally on KenPom and is playing really good basketball, having won five of its last six games.

However, Wisconsin has also shown some upset potential this season. The Badgers dropped games to Minnesota and Western Kentucky already this season (both are below Indiana on KenPom) and nearly dropped games to teams like Northwestern and Ohio State as well. Indiana also won the only regular season meeting between the two on February 26th in double overtime.

After that, Indiana would likely be looking at either Michigan or Purdue in a potential championship game. Those three teams are all ranked above Maryland and Wisconsin on KenPom, so things would be getting even tougher at that point.

Overall

This season has been a bizarre one for the Hoosiers. The team started hot, faded, and then recovered over the last two weeks of the season. Indiana now finds itself squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

Considering Indiana’s position as a nine seed, it won’t be easy to make a deep run. Ohio State will be a challenge on Thursday and things would get substantially tougher if the Hoosiers even manage to get past the Buckeyes. Most likely, Indiana would have to follow up a win over Ohio State with back-to-back wins against top 15 teams on KenPom to make it to Sunday.

However, Indiana’s path might be better than it looks on first glance. Ohio State has fallen apart in recent weeks and the Hoosiers went 3-0 against Michigan State and Wisconsin during the regular season. Past success doesn’t guarantee future success, but a 3-0 record is certainly encouraging.

All told, Indiana figures to have a wild week in Chicago. The Hoosiers are balancing on the edge of the bubble and have some major opportunities ahead. We will see if the team can get the job done.