Going into Thursday evening’s game versus Northwestern, the tournament prospects for IU basketball could best be described as “tenuous”. There are basically three scenarios at play, each with their own potential outcomes. In order from worst to best, they are:
- Indiana loses to Northwestern: This is a worst-case scenario, because it would saddle the Hoosiers with their second sub-100 RPI loss, and would come at a time when the team desperately needs to show that they can both win games, and win them away from Assembly Hall.
- Indiana beats Northwestern but loses to Maryland: This isn’t that much better of a scenario than the first one listed, simply because beating a Northwestern team on a neutral floor isn’t going to be looked upon as anything special by the committee. Yes, it will show that IU has a bit of life away from home, but only against a non-tournament team.
- Indiana beats Northwestern and Maryland: Book the tickets now. And don’t worry about the play-in game. This scenario could see IU jump a couple of seed lines.
While IU can do a lot to help or hurt themselves tomorrow (and/or Friday), there are other moving parts in the tournament process. IU could lose to Northwestern and still get in, or they could beat Northwestern and still not make it in. Much of that is due to the teams in the same general vicinity of the bubble as the Hoosiers. Those are the teams you really need to be watching for over the next day or two.
Let’s look at the worst-case scenario, where IU loses to Northwestern but still harbors hopes of getting in. In that scenario, you need to be focusing on the following teams:
- Miami: Squeaked by Virginia Tech in their first ACC Tournament game. Really needs a win against an actual tournament-caliber opponent, and they get that chance on Thursday night when they play Notre Dame. By almost any metric, IU is in better shape than Miami right now, and it’s doubtful that the Canes can climb above IU without a victory against Notre Dame, even if IU loses to Northwestern.
- Tulsa: Bereft of quality wins, but possessing a gaudy record in the AAC. They don’t play until Friday, when they face the winner of Tulane/Houston (both of whom are horrendous). Tulsa would pose a threat to IU if they defeated the winner of Cincinnati/UConn on Saturday – particularly UConn, since the game is being played on their “other” home floor.
- Temple: Similar to Tulsa, but with a win versus Kansas in their back pocket, so they are probably closer to overtaking IU (or they are already ahead of them depending on who you listen to). Can do a bit more damage than Tulsa earlier on, by beating Memphis on a neutral floor. They follow that up with a likely shot at SMU on Saturday.
- Texas: These guys are likely in already, thanks to a late-season pair of wins. Beating Iowa State today would leave no doubt.
- Illinois: The Illini are almost certainly behind IU in the pecking order, but that could change if they beat Michigan and IU loses to Northwestern.
- Boise State and Colorado State: I’d be surprised if either of these teams was able to earn an at-large berth as they currently stand. Colorado State has a more generous path in the MWC tournament, since they could possibly get a crack at San Diego State (who is easily in the field already) in the semifinal. Boise State likely needs to win the league to get in, but if they did, that would take away an at-large spot from the bubble.
- UCLA: Has to beat USC, then has to beat Arizona in the second round. Not impossible, and a win over Arizona on a neutral floor would easily trump anything IU has done this season.
- Stanford: If they beat Utah and Oregon, they’re likely in. Anything less than that and they’re likely out.
Even if IU ends up beating Northwestern but losing to Maryland, they still face a decent amount of danger from the aforementioned teams. It wouldn’t be quite as much, because IU would have avoided the baggage of another bad loss, and will have hopefully shown that they can avoid failing the “eye test.”
Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of legitimate bid thieves left in the non-major conferences, so at least that threat appears to be off the table.