With a 15-14 overall record and 6-12 mark in Big Ten play, it would be completely reasonable if you had long ago accepted the idea that Indiana was out of the running for the NCAA Tournament.
Because here is something else that you need to accept — when you (1) play one of the most difficult schedules in the country, (2) compile an impressive list of quality wins, (3) incur no bad losses, and (4) endure and overcome a rash of injuries — you are telling people that you are in reality a pretty good team.
And that tends to keep a team like Indiana in the running for March Madness much longer than most would have imagined.
WHAT IS A QUALITY WIN AND BAD LOSS?
Look, we get it. What about Rutgers! Northwestern! Those are bad losses.
Except that they aren’t.
The NCAA’s criteria for what constitutes good wins and bad losses is not in any way tied to our own emotional or nostalgic sentiments on who Indiana basketball is allowed to lose to.
In fact when it comes to the NCAA, it’s fairly black and white.
By now you have likely heard of the quadrant system, and Indiana’s so-called “Quad 1 wins.”
Here are those quadrants. The numbers correspond to the NCAA’s NET ratings, which replaced the RPI as the primary ranking tool used by the NCAA Tournament Committee.
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
It is really quite simple. Quadrant 1 wins — good. Quadrant 3 and 4 losses — bad to really bad. Everything else — fairly neutral.
Indiana currently has six Quadrant 1 wins (Marquette, Louisville, Penn State, Michigan State (x2), Wisconsin). While IU is ranked No. 55 in the NET as of this writing, you have to go a long way up the rankings to find another team with that many Quadrant 1 wins. Translation — IU is better than they appear.
Meanwhile, the Hoosiers have no Quadrant 3 or 4 losses. And really no losses that are even close to being “bad” at this point.
That’s it. Indiana has endured injuries and a tough schedule and has compiled a resume of good wins with no bad losses — and they are still firmly in the NCAA hunt.
WHAT THE NATIONAL MEDIA IS SAYING
At times like these it is better to recognize one’s own biases, step aside, and listen to the national voices.
And when it comes to Indiana, they are talking.
The Hoosiers are that team this year that everyone has an opinion on, especially after last week’s two big wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State.
You won’t find an informed take right now that says Indiana’s only path the NCAA Tournament is to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Here is just a sampling of what is being said right now about IU —
“If (and it’s no small if) Archie Miller’s men win at Illinois and at home against Rutgers, they’ll finish the season at 17-14 overall and 8-12 in the Big Ten. That could get the job done.” — John Gasaway, ESPN
“Overall, Indiana is 6-9 in Q1 games. All 14 of their losses have come against Q1 and Q2 competition. And in a year where we are talking about teams without anything even remotely close to a quality win on their resume, Indiana, at the very least, is in the thick of the conversation.” — Rob Dauster, NBC
“If they can beat Illinois and Rutgers this week and then get at least one (preferably two) wins in the Big Ten Tournament then the Hoosiers would have a great shot at making the field of 68 despite a stretch where they lost 12 of 13 during Big Ten play.” — Eric Bossi, Rivals
“Indiana put itself back on the bubble this weekend.” — The Sporting News
“Point-blank: Two weeks before Selection Sunday, Indiana is forcing the college basketball world to once again confront the point that while conference records can look really bad when you see them on a computer screen, they aren’t a central bubble metric. They’re not. Please realize this.” — CBB Today
If none of that is convincing and bracketology is your thing, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Indiana as part of his “next four out.”
The Hoosiers are right there.
WHAT ARCHIE MILLER IS SAYING
Archie Miller spoke last night on his radio show about where he sees IU in the NCAA picture:
“Everyone would like to look back and say boy if we had gotten a couple here or there we’d be in a much more comfortable situation in terms of what everyone wants for the postseason,” Miller said. “But we have two games this week, and they are both as important as the Michigan State game was.
It impacts obviously the totality of your seed in the Big Ten Tournament of when you play, who you play, how you play. But it also put us in the mix right now for creeping back into the NCAA Tournament picture. I don’t know how many it’s going to take, but I do know we still control what we can control right now. We’re not out of it. We’ve played the 8th toughest schedule in the country, we’ve played as many if not the most Quadrant 1 games in the country. We also have six Quadrant 1 wins. There’s a lot of teams that don’t even have six Quadrant 1 attempts.
Our schedule at the end of the day gives us a chance regardless of what our record is. They don’t care what you did in January. If you finish the season well, they are going to look at you and say these guys have done this over the course of the season.”
JUST WIN BABY
If you still can’t get yourself there, it’s probably because there is still a big “yeah but” looming in front of Indiana.
While we don’t know how much, we do know one thing for sure — the Hoosiers still need to win.
It is isn’t entirely clear that they need to get wins over both Illinois and Rutgers, but the more the better, and almost certainly, any losses this week are going to necessitate more wins next week at the Big Ten Tournament.
For us, the magic number is probably 18 wins, assuming no bad losses are picked up along the way.
That will mean beating Rutgers at home. That is the one that is non-negotiable.
But when you are Indiana, you cannot look even that far ahead.
Next up is a trip to Illinois, and an opportunity for a third straight win.
And an opportunity to save what only just two weeks ago was a bubble that had seemingly already burst.
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