Since Archie Miller arrived on campus, things haven’t gone all that smoothly for the Indiana Hoosiers. The team has yet to make the NCAA Tournament under his leadership and haven’t delivered in big games in the manner fans were hoping to see. And as a result, Indiana now finds itself on the bubble heading into this week’s Big Ten Tournament.
But can Indiana do enough to secure its NCAA bid? Let’s take a look.
As the 11 seed, Indiana has the undesirable task of opening up Big Ten Tournament play on Wednesday against 14th seeded Nebraska. It goes without saying, but nobody wants to play on the opening day of the Big Ten Tournament, as it requires five wins in five days to hoist the tournament title. Not exactly an easy task.
The B1G tourney field is set. pic.twitter.com/pV0b4p0nxl— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 9, 2020
But with that said, Indiana might be in the rare situation where a Wednesday game isn’t all bad. Indiana needs to add wins for Selection Sunday and a game against Nebraska seems like an opportunity to do just that. Indiana swept the regular season series and KenPom gives the Hoosiers 82 percent odds to get the win on Wednesday night.
The big concern, obviously, is about what happens if Indiana falls short against Nebraska. Beating a single team three times in a season is always a difficult task and the regular season matchups between the teams were pretty competitive, including one game that was decided in overtime. We’ll get to more of this in the bracketology section, but a loss would almost certainly knock Indiana out of the Big Dance. That’s the downside of playing an underwhelming opponent. A win seems likely, but a loss would be devastating.
-If They Advance
Should Indiana take care of business on Wednesday, the Hoosiers would then face six seed Penn State on Thursday evening. It should probably go without saying, but the Nittany Lions would be a far more formidable opponent than Nebraska. Indiana would go from being a substantial favorite on Wednesday to an underdog against Penn State.
From an on-court perspective, the matchup looks relatively even. The teams split the regular season series and have pretty similar overall profiles. Penn State’s resume is better, but the game would probably project as a coin flip. The big challenge would be slowing down Lamar Stevens. If Indiana does that, it probably walks out with a win.
There are also a few other things that should encourage Hoosier fans about a potential matchup against Penn State. The biggest reason being Penn State’s significant struggles over the last month of the season. Penn State went 1-5 over its last six games and ranked 81st in team efficiency during that stretch. And given the fact that Indiana ranked 24th over the same time period, there’s no debating the Hoosiers have been playing at a higher level as of late.
Additionally, Indiana would have the benefit of confidence and comfort, having played (and won) the day before. Penn State will be coming into its Thursday game ice cold after being off since Saturday. Playing back-to-back games will eventually wear you out, but it takes more than two games to do it. If Indiana can hit the ground running and get Penn State down, perhaps they can sneak out the upset. With those factors in mind, it’s not too difficult to see Indiana making it to Friday this week.
From that point forward, Indiana would likely have to get through Michigan State or Ohio State on Saturday and somebody like Wisconsin or Illinois in a potential Big Ten Tournament title game. Those games would certainly be major challenges, especially given how Indiana has struggled against the Badgers in recent years.
Indiana is widely regarded as an NCAA Tournament bubble team entering this week of action and it’s hard to disagree. The Hoosiers are 19-12 overall, 9-11 in Big Ten play, and ranked 61st on the NET. TRank currently gives Indiana a 67.9 percent chance of receiving an at-large bid on Selection Sunday.
The question, of course, is how many wins Indiana needs to secure its spot in the field. Based on where things sit today, two seems to be the answer. If the Hoosiers beat Nebraska on Wednesday and Penn State on Thursday, the drama will end and Indiana will receive an NCAA bid on Sunday. Anything beyond that would just be gravy.
But what if Indiana gets fewer than two wins?
Well, that’s where things would get interesting. A lot if it will depend on how other bubble teams perform, but Wednesday seems like as a “win and you’re in” situation. Beat Nebraska and you’re probably going to hear your name called, but a loss to the Huskers would likely knock you out of the field. So yeah, there will be a lot of pressure this week.
For all the frustration Hoosier fans have had with the team this season, Indiana enters this year’s Big Ten Tournament in relatively decent position, especially for a team opening up things on Wednesday. Indiana needs just two wins to secure an NCAA bid, and one win will probably be enough to get the job done. And the route doesn’t even look that difficult with an underwhelming Nebraska team on Wednesday and a reeling Penn State on Thursday.
We’ll have to wait and see if Indiana can get the job done, but there are some clear reasons for Hoosier fans to have faith this week. And if so, perhaps this can be the start of something special for Archie Miller and the program moving forward.