Arguably the most turbulent roller coaster season in college basketball took another surprising turn Saturday as unranked Indiana locked up Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston on the final possession in Bloomington as the Hoosiers held on for a 63-62 win against the No. 6-ranked Spartans.
The victory sealed Indiana’s home-and-road sweep of Michigan State this season, something the Hoosiers haven’t accomplished since 2013, when they earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Unlike those Hoosiers, which were led by Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, this year’s group won’t earn a top seed in the tournament.
In the latest edition of NCAA Tournament Bracket Scouting, we dropped Indiana to the “auto-bid or bust” category after the Hoosiers dropped to 13-14, signaling that their at-large chances were all but over.
Back-to-back wins – something they hadn’t achieved since January 3 – against Wisconsin and Michigan State have reopened that door.
[RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections]
The arc of Indiana’s season is reminiscent of Oklahoma’s 2017-18 campaign, when the Sooners also started 12-2 (they were actually 14-2 at one point in mid-January) before losing 11 of their final 15 games, finishing 8-10 in the Big 12 and 18-13 overall after losing in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.
They earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoosiers’ latest win improved their overall record to 15-14 (6-12 Big Ten) with two regular season games to play: at Illinois Thursday and home against Rutgers next Sunday.
After sending the Spartans home empty-handed, here’s the Hoosiers’ resume broken down by quadrant:
- Quadrant 1: 6-9
- Quadrant 2: 1-5
- Quadrant 3: 2-0
- Quadrant 4: 6-0
The long and the short of it is that Indiana has a lot of good wins (especially compared to most bubble teams) and no bad losses. That’s a great place to be in early March.
However, the Hoosiers have a lot of losses, period.
As a reminder, the record for most losses by a team that received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament is 15 losses, which was achieved by Vanderbilt in 2017 and Alabama last season.
Given that Indiana currently has 14 losses, history says it has to win its next two games to keep its at-large hopes alive or else it’ll have to win the Big Ten Tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament.
Beating Illinois and Rutgers wouldn’t add much heft to Indiana’s resume, given that those games fall under Quadrant 2 and Quadrant 3, respectively. But at this point in the season, Indiana could simply use wins of any kind to get further away from .500 overall and closer to .500 in the Big Ten.
This is the first year of the Big Ten’s 20-game regular season schedule, so there’s no precedent for the worst conference record for a team that earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Regardless of the results of Indiana’s final two regular season games, the Hoosiers will arrive in Chicago for the Big Ten Tournament needing to win. It’s just a matter of how many games.
Of course, it’s tough to concretely state what Indiana needs to accomplish between Saturday and Selection Sunday to earn an at-large bid. That depends on how many conferences’ auto-bids are “stolen” by teams that wouldn’t have made the NCAA Tournament otherwise and how other bubble teams fare in the next two weeks.
Here’s a look at how Indiana’s resume compares to other NCAA Tournament bubble teams.
In the chart below, we list Indiana followed by the teams from the Last Four In, First Four Out and Next Four Out – in order – from Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament bracket projections from Friday.
|School||Quadrant 1||Quadrant 2||Quadrant 3||Quadrant 4||NET||SOS|
* Seton Hall, Utah State, Clemson, UNC-Greensboro, St. Mary’s and Georgetown play games Saturday that haven’t been decided at the time this story was written.
Indiana has at least two more Quadrant 1 wins than every other team on that chart above but it has also had more opportunities. The Hoosiers also have the most Quadrant 2 losses and the worst Quadrant 2 record among the teams listed above.
Besides Indiana, only two other teams listed above don’t have a single Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4 loss this season.
That’s the duality of Indiana’s resume.
The Hoosiers have beaten Michigan State twice, Wisconsin, Marquette and Louisville, without having suffered any terrible losses. But they do have a lot of losses.
Their NET ranking is in the middle of the teams listed above. Six teams have a lower NET ranking and six have a higher NET ranking. Indiana’s strength of schedule is tougher than that of most bubble teams.
There are three possible outcomes to what happens next for Indiana:
- Indiana misses the 2019 NCAA Tournament
- Indiana earns the Big Ten’s auto-bid for the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big Ten Tournament
- Indiana earns an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament
If Indiana loses at least one of its final two regular season games and doesn’t win the Big Ten Tournament, it will likely miss the NCAA Tournament. A team has never earned an at-large bid with 16 or more losses.
If Indiana wins four or five games in the Big Ten Tournament (depending on where it finishes in the conference standings), it’ll automatically make the NCAA Tournament.
The most interesting scenario is the wide-ranging one that falls somewhere in between the two outlined above, if the Hoosiers win their next two game but don’t win the Big Ten Tournament.
How would the selection committee compare Indiana to mid-major teams like Utah State, UNC-Greensboro or Furman?
Indiana is currently seven games below .500 in Quadrants 1 and 2. How would the committee compare the Hoosiers to other at-large candidates from power conferences that might have fewer Quadrant 1 wins but a higher winning percentage against opponents in the top two quadrants?
If Indiana wins it’s next two games, we’ll find out soon enough.