In Bloomington, expectations are high. Fans don’t accept mediocrity or long stretches without national relevance. It’s the reason Tom Crean got fired and why so many players want to suit up for the Indiana Hoosiers on a yearly basis. This is a program defined by winning and one that strives to win national championships.
Unfortunately, fans will have to accept underwhelming results this year. The Hoosiers showed promise early on, but faded over the last few months of the season. Indiana now finds itself heading to the NIT.
So, how far can Indiana go in the NIT? Let’s take a look.
As the one seed in the Lower Left Bracket, Indiana will get to play at home for the opening rounds of the NIT. The Hoosiers will open up NIT play on Tuesday in Bloomington against St. Francis (PA) at 7:00 p.m.
On paper, this looks like a complete mismatch in favor of Indiana. St. Francis (PA) is rated 261st nationally on KenPom and finished with an overall record of 18-14, despite playing in one of the nation’s weakest conferences. The team’s defense is atrocious and the Red Flash were blown out by virtually ever legitimate non-conference opponent it faced.
Keith Braxton and Jamaal King are the players to watch for St. Francis (PA). Braxton is a really solid player on the boards and King leads the team’s offense. Indiana’s size and defense should be able to slow these two down pretty well.
-If They Advance
Should Indiana take care of business in its opening game, it would then face either Providence or Arkansas in the next game. The Friars are the higher seeded team, but the two look relatively close on paper. And consider Indiana lost to the Razorbacks earlier this season, fans might actually prefer Providence.
Assuming it is Providence, Indiana’s primary goal has to be slowing down Alpha Diallo and Nate Watson in the frontcourt. The two have been a dynamic duo for much of the season. Both are quality rebounders and Diallo can hit from deep as well. Undoubtedly, Indiana would need some quality play from Justin Smith and Juwan Morgan to get past the Friars.
If it’s Arkansas, Indiana has to find a way to stop Daniel Gafford. He tore Indiana apart in the first game, scoring 27 points and finishing with 12 rebounds. The Hoosiers would also be wise to focus on the boards, as Arkansas is a relatively weak rebounding team.
After that, Indiana would likely be looking at facing Clemson or Furman for a shot at going to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Final Four. The Tigers look much better on paper, so Hoosier fans should be hoping Clemson gets upset early. Furman is also pretty impressive with a 25-7 overall record.
The other top seeds in the NIT bracket are UNC Greensboro, Alabama, and TCU. Indiana should be projected to play UNC Greensboro in the NIT Final Four and the winner of Alabama-TCU in the title game. Of course, that’s assuming all four of the one seeds advance to the NIT Final Four. The Hoosiers are above all three of these teams on KenPom.
After narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament, Indiana enters the NIT with a manageable path in front of it. The Hoosiers have an incredibly easy first round game followed by manageable opponents thereafter. Providence and Arkansas are solid teams, but Indiana would be favored over either opponent. Clemson has also shown itself to be a flawed squad this season.
The main question for Indiana, though, will be about desire. That might sound like a vague thing to say, but the NIT is largely about motivation. Nobody wants to be in the NIT. As such, it’s not surprising to see squads give less than their full effort. Whether the Hoosiers make a run will likely depend on whether the team gives its full effort. We’ll have to wait and see if that ends up being the case.