The Indiana basketball team looked poised to break out of their three year NCAA tournament drought just two weeks ago, but after four losses in a row, they are suddenly on the bubble.
On January 23rd, the Hoosiers upset the Michigan State Spartans at home. It was their third straight win against the Spartans and it looked like Indiana was in a position to make some noise. They were 15-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten.
They had another tough home game coming up, but one they thought they could win. Despite a hot shooting start from Maryland, Indiana stayed in the game and took control in the second half. They looked primed to pull off another upset and all but solidify their spot in the NCAA tournament. Instead, they blew a late lead and lost by one. Since then they have lost three more games in a row and now sit firmly on the bubble.
Just a week ago we wrote how the Hoosiers were still securely in the field, but a lackluster performance at home against in-state rival Purdue and all of sudden a berth isn’t a sure thing. Indiana still has a strong resume with zero bad losses and three very good wins against Florida State, Ohio State, and Michigan State.
But even with those big wins, the Hoosiers are still right on the bubble. They have lost four straight overall and two in a row at home after winning 11 of their first 12 at Assembly Hall. They continue to struggle for large stretches of games and have given away at least three games because of horrendous second halves.
The good news is they still have plenty of time to pick up good wins and with the Big Ten extremely deep this year, they can afford the losses they have. The problem is, they can’t afford many more of them.
The schedule, though, does not get any easier for the Hoosiers. They play four of their next six games on the road, with their only home games being against Iowa who has Luka Garza, and Penn State who has Lamar Stevens and might be playing the best basketball in the conference right now.
Their road trips send them to Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue, and Ilinois. The Wolverines have struggled at home lately but are coming off a win against Michigan State. Minnesota is much better at the Barn and Purdue has been a completely different at Mackey Arena. The Illini play probably the best defense in the conference and is a tough matchup for the Hoosiers.
Its a stretch of games that would be tough for any team, but especially for the Hoosiers right now with the way they are playing. Indiana has to win the two games at home and steal at least one of the road games if not two of them. If they can go at least 3-3 during this stretch it should put them in a good spot for the tournament. Again, none of these games would be bad losses, but it doesn’t matter if you lose all of them.
For all the good the Hoosiers did early in the season it won’t matter if they can’t snap out of their funk. It all starts with Iowa on Thursday. The Hawkeyes can score with anyone in the country but their defense can be very suspect and have been vulnerable to losing on the road. They got beat by almost 30 at Purdue last week.
It’s the biggest stretch of games for the Hoosiers this season and one that will define their season. After these six games, we should know if Indiana will be dancing come the end of March or heading back to the NIT.