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Why Indiana Has Low NCAA Tournament Chances Despite Same Record as Some Tournament Teams

Indiana is on the outside looking in for the 2024 NCAA Tournament despite having the same record and amount of Quad 1 wins as Michigan State, which is currently projected to make the field. Here's why.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana’s 65-64 win over Michigan State on Sunday left the Hoosiers with the same regular season record as both the Spartans and the Iowa Hawkeyes: 18-13 overall and 10-10 in the Big Ten.

Holding the tiebreaker, Indiana earned the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. But when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers are the odd ones out. In Joe Lunardi’s Tuesday morning Bracketology update on ESPN, Michigan State is a No. 10 seed, and Iowa is one of the next four teams out. Indiana is not even mentioned – not in the bracket, not among the bubble teams, and not even the “win here, then win again” category that highlights important games for teams even further off the bubble. Even Ohio State, which fired its coach midseason and lost to Indiana twice, is listed in the latter category.

A run to the Big Ten Tournament title game would make the NCAA Tournament committee consider the Hoosiers. But unless they win the Big Ten Tournament title, the Hoosiers can’t feel safe about dancing for a third consecutive season under coach Mike Woodson. With an identical record to Michigan State and Iowa, why is Indiana being left behind?

In simplest terms, it’s because the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings hate Indiana’s resume.

Before the 2018-19 season, the NET replaced the Ratings Power Index (RPI). The RPI used three criteria: Team winning percentage,average opponent's winning percentage, and average opponent's opponent's winning percentage.

Per the NCAA, the NET is a two-component metric: The Team Value Index (TVI), which is a result-based feature that rewards teams for beating quality opponents, particularly away from home, and an adjusted net efficiency rating. The adjusted efficiency is a team’s net efficiency, adjusted for strength of opponent and location (home/away/neutral) across all games played. The NET is both a results-driven and predictive metric, taking into account game results, strength of schedule, game location, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses.

So while the RPI was centered around a team and its opponents’ win percentage, the NET takes into account game results, strength of schedule, game location, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses. The NET values a team’s first game the same as it does its 30th game, for example. The idea that Indiana is “getting hot at the right time” with a current four-game win streak is off base, because a win streak now doesn’t hold any more weight than it would have in December.

The NET rankings ultimately lead to the quadrant system, which is a way to value wins and losses.

  • Quadrant 1: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353

The NCAA Tournament selection committee does not create the field of 68 simply by going through the NET rankings and seeding teams in exact order. It’s supposed to bejust a reference tool, but it’s certainly important. And it’s why Indiana’s NCAA Tournament chances are slim.

Indiana is 93rd in the NET rankings. In 2022, No. 77 Rutgers became the NET's lowest-ranked team to ever make the tournament. Despite a sixth-place finish in the Big Ten standings, Indiana is 12th among conference foes in the NET. Here’s a summary of the Big Ten, per the NET.

  • No. 2 Purdue (28-3) – Q1: 11-3, Q2: 8-0, Q3: 6-0, Q4: 3-0
  • No. 15 Illinois (23-8) – Q1: 5-6, Q2: 6-1, Q3: 7-1, Q4, 5-0
  • No. 22 Wisconsin (19-12) – Q1: 4-8, Q2: 7-4, Q3: 4-0, Q4: 4-0
  • No. 24 Michigan State (18-13) – Q1: 3-8, Q2: 5-5, Q3: 6-0, Q4: 4-0
  • No. 37 Nebraska (22-9) – Q1: 4-6, Q2: 4-3, Q3: 7-0, Q4: 7-0
  • No. 50 Northwestern (21-10) – Q1: 4-6, Q2: 5-3, Q3: 5-0, Q4: 7-1
  • No. 55 Ohio State (19-12) – Q1: 3-6, Q2: 2-5, Q3: 9-1, Q4: 5-0
  • No. 60 Iowa (18-13) – Q1: 3-8, Q2: 5-3, Q3: 4-2, Q4: 6-0
  • No. 77 Maryland (15-16) – Q1: 2-8, Q2: 4-4, Q3: 2-4, Q4: 7-0
  • No. 86 Minnesota (18-13) – Q1: 1-8, Q2: 5-3, Q3: 3-2, Q4: 9-0
  • No. 89 Penn State (15-16) – Q1: 2-8, Q2: 4-5, Q3: 4-2, Q4: 5-1
  • No. 93 Indiana (19-13) – Q1: 3-8, Q2: 4-5, Q3: 4-1, Q4: 6-0
  • No. 102 Rutgers (15-16) – Q1: 2-12, Q2: 4-2, Q3: 2-2, Q4: 7-0
  • No. 131 Michigan (8-23) – Q1: 3-12, Q2: 1-7, Q3: 2-3, Q4: 2-1

Combining Quad 1 and Quad 2, Indiana has the eighth-most wins among Big Ten teams. It also only has one loss in Quad 3 and Quad 4, something seven other teams can say. Additionally, Indiana ranks 15th in the nation in strength of schedule, which means its record is not inflated by beating bad teams.

So why is Indiana still so low? It boils down to efficiency ratings.

In seven games against mid-major, nonconference opponents, Indiana’s average margin of victory was only 9.6 points. The largest nonconference win was by 17 points against North Alabama, but the Hoosiers only beat Morehead State, Wright State, Army and Florida Gulf Coast by single digits. Add eight losses by 12-plus points, and Indiana’s lack of blowout wins and amount of big losses hurting its efficiency ratings.

Compare that to Michigan State, which has the same number of Quad 1 wins and is three spots lower in strength of schedule. The Spartans won six games over mid-major opponents by an average of 26.8 points, including three by 30-plus points, and all by 13 or more. They also only lost three games all year by double digits.

It’s fair to wonder whether blowout wins over mid-major opponents should carry as much weight as they apparently do in the NET rankings – and on a team’s NCAA Tournament chances – and whether the NET’s failure to valuing wins in February and March higher than those in November and December. That suggests teams don’t get additional credit for improving during the season and, for example, ending the regular season on a four-game winning streak.

It’s also easy to see that the current system places value on blowing teams out, does not particularly value close wins against weaker opponents, and penalizes teams that suffer blowout losses even to better teams. Indiana did poorly in both of those categories, and would have been in a more favorable position had it won some of those November games by a larger margin.

Regardless, this is the system the NCAA Tournament now uses – and Indiana needs to extend its hot streak to at least an appearance in the Big Ten tournament title game to have any chance of making it to the big dance.

  • KEL'EL WARE FEATURE: Kel’el Ware was a highly touted prospect at North Little Rock High School in Arkansas, where he won two state championships. A top-10 recruit, most thought he would reach the NBA as a one-and-done, but he had an underwhelming freshman season at Oregon. As a sophomore at Indiana under coach Mike Woodson, Ware is averaging 16.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks and has turned his potential into production. CLICK HERE
  • INDIANA-MICHIGAN STATE GAME STORY: Kel'el Ware had 28 points and 12 rebounds and made a free throw with 17 seconds to go after missing five straight, helping Indiana beat Michigan State 65-64 in the final regular season game of the year. It was the Hoosiers' fourth straight win. CLICK HERE
  • TREY GALLOWAY SENIOR DAY SPEECH: Indiana guard Trey Galloway used his Senior Day speech following the Hoosiers' 65-64 win over Michigan State to announce he's returning for his fifth season in 2024-25. CLICK HERE
  • ANTHONY LEAL SENIOR DAY SPEECH: Indiana guard and Bloomington native Anthony Leal announced he'll return for his fifth year in 2024-25 during his Senior Day speech on Sunday after the Hoosiers' 65-64 win over Michigan State. CLICK HERE
  • XAVIER JOHNSON SENIOR DAY SPEECH: Indiana is 4-0 since Xavier Johnson returned from an elbow injury, including Sunday's 65-64 win over Michigan State on Johnson's Senior Day. Here's the full video of his speech. CLICK HERE
  • ANTHONY WALKER SENIOR DAY SPEECH: Here's the video of Anthony Walker's Senior Day speech following the Hoosiers' 65-64 win over Michigan State. CLICK HERE