While the Indiana Hoosiers had hoped this season would end the NCAA tournament drought of late for the program, it essentially has boiled down to an auto-bid for that to happen. As a result of a disappointing season, the team earned the 10 seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament.
But can the Hoosiers surprise in Indy? Let’s take a look.
As the 10 seed, Indiana has the first evening game on Thursday in Big Ten Tournament play against Rutgers. While not as terrible as a Wednesday game, and there are some rest advantages provided by having the earlier game of the day over the course of the tournament, the path to Sunday’s title is still a four game slog.
_________ will be cutting down the nets Sunday? pic.twitter.com/umsMb9qEoV— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 8, 2021
Still, the opening matchup proves a difficult but manageable task for Indiana. The Hoosiers fell to Rutgers in both games during the regular season. In both games, the Scarlet Knights scored 74 points, but Indiana managed a far more competitive four point loss on its home court versus am 11-point loss on the road a month later. Still, winning against the same opponent three times can be a challenge.
However, that will require winning a tough matchup for Indiana. Trayce Jackson-Davis scored just 14 in the first outing but was aided by 11 from Race Thompson and 14 from Armaan Franklin. But then in the second game Jackson-Davis and Aljami Durham both scored 20+ with no other Hoosier hitting double figures.
To have a shot, Indiana needs more production across the roster and to get to the line and hit more free throws. Game one saw a 70.6 percent performance from the charity stripe that was also an even 17 attempts between teams. In game two, Indiana only hit 61.1 percent despite having an 18-6 attempt advantage over Rutgers. Should the Hoosiers manage a balanced offensive performance, they should finally get the victory over Rutgers on the season.
-If They Advance
Should Indiana beat Rutgers on Thursday, the Hoosiers would then move on to face Illinois on Friday. This would be a daunting task for IU to overcome, but the Hoosiers did give Illinois a scare last month in Bloomington in a 75-71 loss. Dosumnu managed just 10 points in that matchup, and Cockburn added 12. If the Hoosiers can force Illinois to rely on scoring from its other players and manage just enough production from its own roster outside Jackson-Davis, Illinois could get the early exit.
A Saturday game is likely going against Iowa, but could be Wisconsin as well. Neither matchup is ideal for the Hoosiers as Iowa has the firepower to counter whatever offense IU can try to throw at them. Wisconsin can grind out the win in its typical slow moving, grind it out style. However, if Indiana somehow finds a way to get the win Saturday afternoon, it will likely face Michigan in the title game Sunday.
With Eli Brooks unlikely to make a return to the court following an ankle injury against the Spartans this past Sunday, this will be a different Wolverines squad than what Indiana faced earlier in the season in a 73-57 home loss. However, IU will still need to find an answer for how to score on a tough Michigan defense while preventing a number of Wolverines from doing the same on Michigan’s offense.
In the unlikely chance Purdue or another team gets the upset path to Sunday, there aren’t any ideal alternatives at hand for the Hoosiers, really. It will be a difficult task for Indiana to find a path to Sunday, but it isn’t called “March Madness” for nothing.
Indiana marching through to the title on Sunday will be a tall order. It will also be the only way to ensure a path to the NCAA. However, an impressive performance in the Big Ten Tournament may setup a chance to make the NIT and make some noise down in Texas at least.