IU Women’s Basketball Can Play Their Way into NCAA Tournament

What a difference six weeks can make.  On January 16, Indiana let a fourth quarter lead slip away on the road and lost to No. 14 Maryland 74-70.  The loss left the struggling Hoosiers with an 8-12 overall record and a 1-6 mark in Big Ten play.  Any thoughts of playing in the postseason seemed more fantasy than anything based in reality.

The schedule wasn’t ready to let up after that tough loss the Terrapins.  The Hoosiers would have to go back out on the road and face a Michigan State team that had defeated IU in Bloomington only a few weeks earlier.  But something happened in between the Maryland and Michigan State games.

That something is called senior leadership, with a dash of emerging freshmen.  Seniors Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill led a first quarter in East Lansing for the ages as IU ran out to a 33-14 first quarter lead over the Spartans.  Buss knocked down four 3-pointers in that quarter while Cahill added a pair.

Photo credit: Indiana University

The momentum from that quarter propelled the Hoosiers all the way through the next six weeks as IU went on a eight game Big Ten winning streak.  The Hoosiers finally met their match on Saturday against an equally hot Iowa squad.  But that eight game winning streak was enough to leave the Hoosiers at 16-13 overall and 9-7 in conference play at the end of the regular season.

More important, the winning streak leaves IU squarely in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament, but it will need to continue its winning ways at the Big Ten tournament to avoid seeing its bubble burst.

THE BIG TEN TOURNAMENT BRACKET

Everything comes full circle at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis as the Hoosiers will face Michigan State on Thursday.  If it wins that one, the Hoosiers will face No. 2 seed Maryland.  Yes, if IU wants to go to the big dance it is going to have to go right back through the two teams that formed the bookends of their dramatic reversal of fortunes.

Credit: Big Ten

The Indiana/Michigan State contest on January 20 sent the Hoosiers and Spartans in opposite directions.  While IU proceeded to win eight in a row, MSU lost six in a row.  The Spartans have steadied things since, winning three of their last four to close out the regular season.  Michigan State finished the regular season at 17-12 overall and 7-9 in Big Ten play — good for the 10th seed in the tournament.

Michigan State won the game in Bloomington 68-46, while Indiana won in East Lansing 69-65.  This is the first time since the 2012 season that the teams have faced each other in the Big Ten tournament. As the No. 5 seed, MSU stopped the Hoosiers, 97-68, in the first round.

WOMEN’S NCAA BRACKETOLOGY

Let there be no doubt, the Hoosiers still have work to do if they want to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament.  As a clear bubble team, the only way that IU can assure itself of an invitation is to win the Big Ten tournament outright.  A loss to Michigan State would almost certainly seal IU’s fate as an NIT team.  Although less clear, the same is likely true if Indiana beats Michigan State but then loses to Maryland.  Wins over the Spartans and Terrapins, however, might just be enough.

ESPN’s bracketology currently has Indiana as part of the “next four out”.  That same bracketology has Maryland as a No. 5 seed, so clearly that would be a big win to sway the committee.  One interesting thing here is that ESPN has Purdue currently in the field as one of the “last four in” despite Indiana having a higher RPI and sweeping the Boilers.  You’d like to the think that the actual NCAA committee wouldn’t let that go unnoticed.

But first things first — Michigan State.  Players love to use the cliches that they are “not looking ahead” and for right now they are “only focused on the next game”.  That had better be the case on Thursday.  If not, the Hoosiers eight game winning streak will quickly become a distant memory fading away in the rear view mirror on State Road 37.  And those seniors that have already said their goodbyes to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall will be reluctantly coming back to host a NIT game.

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Main photo credit – iuhoosiers.com

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