With home loss to Iowa, Indiana flirting with NCAA tournament bubble
On Jan. 22, Indiana beat then-No. 13 Maryland, 89-70, in Bloomington. It was the Hoosiers’ best win of the season to date and their NCAA tournament resume felt much stronger because of it. Tom Crean’s team was ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press Poll with a 15-4 record and 5-1 mark in conference play. In his next Bubble Watch, SI.com’s Michael Beller slotted Indiana on the 6-line, noting that the Hoosiers looked like the “third-best team in the Big Ten.”
With less than two weeks left before Selection Sunday, it’s clear that Indiana is not one of the league’s top-three teams. The Hoosiers fell at home to Iowa on Tuesday night, 77-63, to drift closer to the bubble. The loss marked Indiana’s third in its last four games; it has now dropped seven of its 11 games since that win over Maryland. The Hoosiers (19-11, 9-8 Big Ten) likely would make the field if they were selected today, but with one regular season game left, how close is Indiana to the cut line?
Indiana picked up top-25 RPI wins over SMU and Butler in the non-conference part of its schedule, and added to that group in conference play with the aforementioned win over the Terps. Other victories over Pittsburgh and Ohio State also help the Hoosiers' case. Another plus for Indiana had been its lack of bad losses, but the Hoosiers fell at sub-100 RPI squad Northwestern last week. Indiana also ranks outside the top 100 in non-conference strength of schedule.
Entering Tuesday, Indiana’s average seed based on the 95 brackets posted to the Bracket Matrix, a site that compiles projections from around the Internet, was 8.68. That may comfort some Hoosiers supporters, but there’s work to be done. First, Indiana faces an important game against likely tourney team Michigan State on Saturday. A loss there would put the Hoosiers on shakier ground entering the Big Ten tournament, which begins on March 11.
Though Iowa is probably safe, a pair of other Big Ten teams, Illinois and Purdue, are still fighting to claim at-large spots. Here’s a comparison of some basic resume data points.
Indiana has often compensated for its lackluster defense with an offense that ranks No. 10 in Kenpom’s adjusted efficiency, but the Hoosiers were held below a point per possession on Tuesday. Indiana connected on only 37 percent of its two-point field goal attempts (compared to 50 percent for Iowa) and turned the ball over on 21 percent of its possessions (compared to 15 percent for Iowa). Indiana also got to the line only 11 times (compared to 28 for Iowa).
The Hoosiers trailed by only four points at halftime, but couldn’t keep pace as the Hawkeyes ripped off a 8-0 run early in the second half. Fans reportedly began filtering out of Assembly Hall as Iowa maintained a double-digit lead over the last six-plus minutes. In the final seconds of the game, coach Tom Crean reportedly shouted a command to his players. “Shake hands. Get off the court!,” Crean said, according to Pete DiPrimio of the News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The good news for the Hoosiers is they have an excellent opportunity to pick up another big win on Saturday. The conference tournament offers more resume-boosting potential. Still, it’s hard to feel confident about Indiana’s chances given its recent run of play and the last time these two teams met. In East Lansing, Mich. on Jan. 5, the Hoosiers shot only 28.3 percent from the field and were outscored by 0.33 points per possession in a 20-point loss.
Another subpar performance on Saturday could nudge Indiana even closer to a major Selection Sunday letdown.