Indiana State and Fort Wayne Continue to Haunt IU with March Around the Corner

It’s been more than a month since Fort Wayne came to Bloomington and pummeled Indiana.  More than two months since Indiana State showed Fort Wayne the template.  Since then Indiana has gotten better, pulled out some decent conference wins, and currently sits at a respectable 5-3 in the Big Ten.  Typically, fifth place in the Big Ten is pretty much a lock for the NCAA tournament.

But those two in-state losses.  Choose your cliche.  They are the elephants in the room.  They stick out like a sore thumb.  Or there’s this:

Let’s be clear, it isn’t like IU just had an off night and Indiana State and Fort Wayne squeaked by at the buzzer.  Those two games were clear, resounding, dominant wins for the Sycamores and Mastodons.  But let’s be clear about something else:  Maryland, Northwestern and Penn State are significantly better than IU’s in-state nemeses.  So Indiana had bad losses early but it is trending in the right direction.

One has to wonder, where would IU stand in the NCAA tournament bracketology if they had taken care of business and won those two games?  Stating the obvious, they’d have a better record.  Indiana currently stands at 12-8, so reversing the outcome of those 2 games would put IU at 14-6 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten.

That certainly sounds like an NCAA tournament worthy resume, but to be sure, let’s take a look at the current teams on the bubble in Joe Lunardi’s Bracektology.  To do that we pulled the resumes of the last 4 in plus any other 11 or 12 seeds that would seemingly qualify as an at large team.

First, let’s look at IU’s current profile to get a sense for their strength of schedule and other attributes:

Now let’s look at the current bubble teams that Lunardi has in the dance:

So what conclusions can you draw from this beyond wondering how Syracuse always ends up in this position and always gets the benefit of the doubt?  Well, for one, Indiana would seem to have a strength of schedule advantage over the mid-majors in this group.  Keep in mind too that IU has games remaining against Purdue, Ohio State (2) and Michigan State, so that SOS will improve.

The real problem for Indiana in this hypothetical (and in reality) is its record against the RPI top 50.  Indiana has yet to secure such a win, going 0 for 5.  Only Boise State is also winless against the RPI Top 50.  But it only takes one team to bump off the bubble, and Boise State would appear to be that team.

Since this exercise is futile, we won’t belabor it.  It seems pretty clear to us that Indiana would at least be a bubble team and possibly in the field if it had won those games.  That just highlights the facts that you have to be ready to play on Day 1, and cannot take anyone lightly.

Instead IU is going to have to overcome those losses.  You overcome bad early losses with late good wins and trending favorably.  That means getting some RPI Top 50 wins, and as we mentioned, there will be opportunities to do just that.

Looking at these profiles and checking ourselves back into reality, we’d expect that Indiana would need to get to at least 11 wins in the Big Ten.  That would mean they would finish 18-12 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten, which would likely be good enough for the top 6 in the conference.  They’d likely need at least one Big Ten conference tournament win as well.  That still might not be enough unless one of those wins comes against the RPI Top 50, which as of right now only includes Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State.  Maryland is just outside that group at 52nd.

Plan B would be to have a really strong showing at the Big Ten tournament.  In other words, there is no Plan B.

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Profiles credit – ESPN

Photo credit – Brian Spurlock, USA Today