Indiana Basketball is about to hit the home stretch of its season, and the team is not in a good spot.
The Hoosiers’ four-game losing streak that spans back to Jan. 26 has put Indiana’s season in serious jeopardy, despite being 15-8 with a few quality wins. The epitome of the team’s recent struggle was on display Saturday afternoon when Indiana lost to rival Purdue 74-62 at home, for its ninth loss in 10 games to the Boilermakers on the day that legendary Indiana head coach Bob Knight made his return to Assembly Hall. A one-point loss to No. 9 Maryland began the losing skid, and it followed with uninspiring performances in losses at No. 13 Penn State and Ohio State.
A hard road ahead
Had Indiana not blown a sizable lead against the Terrapins, the Hoosiers would be 16-4 going into that Penn State game, likely ranked. Now, the team is reeling, and Indiana is right on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament for the first team since 2016.
The thing Indiana has working for itself? Time. Time to get on track, and time to alleviate the bad basketball. Eight games remain on the schedule, four at home and four on the road.
Each of the remaining contests are great opportunities for Indiana to bolster its resume and tidy up play up before March, but also prove to be major challenges. The only problem is, there isn’t one “easy” game left.
The Hoosiers may not technically control their own destiny of making the NCAA Tournament, but a strong end to the season is the way to do it.
The Big Ten has been the best conference in college basketball this season, and for that, Indiana is in a favorable position. The strength of schedule in conference play is certainly something that the committee will look at to help Indiana strengthen their case as a deserving team and give leniency to with their losses.
Strong schedule paying off?
Right now, the Hoosiers are 5-7 in conference. Not great. At the same time, due to the strength of the Big Ten, finishing right around .500 in Big Ten play is exactly where Indiana needs to be to make the field of 68 come Selection Sunday.
The Big Ten is going to have a handful of teams get in, and likely more than any other conference. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Big Ten with 11 teams making the tourney; the next highest is the Big East with six teams in.
“We gotta go through this thing together.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) February 12, 2020
With the Big Ten getting that much consideration for teams making the field, it’s imperative that Indiana finishes about .500 in Big Ten play and gets to, if not close to, 20 wins overall. By doing that, the Hoosiers will have a strong conference strength of schedule, no real bad losses, and some strong wins to advocate for their spot in the tournament. Still easier said than done.
All of Indiana’s losses come to teams ranked No. 38 or better in the NET rankings, which is a very strong point for Indiana.
The quality wins are running a little thin now though. Florida State, Ohio State and Michigan State remain the best ones, but both Ohio State and Michigan State have slipped severely from where they were when Indiana beat them as both teams are now unranked. Michigan State and Ohio State still rank favorably in the NET though, currently at No. 11 and No. 22, respectively. IU’s win over Florida State is looking very good now, as the Seminoles are currently the eighth best team in the country.
Still, finishing the home stretch of the regular season strong is key for Indiana, a team in need of some more quality wins, especially some on the road.
If Selection Sunday were today, Indiana’s tourney hopes would be on the fringe. Oddly familiar.
Looking at different bracketologists’ projections, it’s a mixed bag about where Indiana stands. Lunardi currently has IU as one of the last four teams into the field of 68, having to play as an 11 seed in the First Four against Stanford. Jerry Palm (CBS) has Indiana as a 10 seed seed playing No. 7 LSU. Dave Ommen of NBC also has Indiana as one of the last four teams in, again as an 11 seed playing No. 6 LSU.
Projections are just that — projections — and Indiana still has plenty of work to do if the Hoosiers want to go dancing come March.
A formidable foe
On Thursday, Indiana will be home again for one of the more difficult games on the docket. No. 21 Iowa, a team Archie Miller called maybe the best IU will have played to this point, comes to town for the Hoosiers’ and Hawkeyes’ only matchup of the season.
A season ago, Indiana had two heartbreaking losses to Iowa, the first in Bloomington, losing 77-72 and on the road 76-70 in overtime.
Just like last year, Iowa has a formidable team shown by its ranking and 17-7 record with a solid resume. The Hawkeyes have beaten five ranked opponents on the season, including No. 9 Maryland, No. 22 Illinois and No. 24 Texas Tech among others.
Much of Iowa’s success has been due to the emergence of Luka Garza, the Hawkeyes’ star who Miller thinks could be the National Player of The Year. At the least, the junior center will likely be named Big Ten Player of the Year at the end of the season.
“We need an engaged team.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) February 13, 2020
The 6-foot-11 standout is leading the conference in scoring at 23.1 points per game, and is nearly averaging a double-double with 9.9 rebounds per game too, which ranks fourth in the league. Garza shoots an impressive 55.3 percent from the field and for as dominant as he is inside, he’s got a great jump shot too. The big man can stroke it from deep, hitting 38.2 percent of his 3-pointers.
Garza himself is a load to handle but dealing with his outside jumper is going to be priority for Indiana, as the Hoosiers have struggled mightily guarding big men capable of shooting threes.
Something to watch for with Garza is the possibility of him in foul trouble. Beyond Garza, the Hawkeyes are thin on frontcourt depth with Cordell Pemsl being arrested Monday for driving with a revoked license. This leaves Ryan Kriener as the only other usual big man in Iowa’s rotation along with Garza able to play.
The Hawkeyes are more than just Garza though. Sophomore Joe Wieskamp and redshirt freshman CJ Fredrick are a load to handle as well.
Wieskamp is an impressive 6-foot-6 wing who can score, averaging 15.4 points per game and rebounds effectively at 6.1 rebounds per contest. Fredrick, a former AAU teammate of Indiana’s Rob Phinisee is the Big Ten’s leader in 3-point shooting percentage, making 47.2 percent of his looks from deep while putting up 11.2 points per game.
Fortunately for the Hoosiers, they won’t have to deal with Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon who is out for the season with injury. Bohannon got the best of the Hoosiers in their two meetings last season. The guard combined for 42 points on 10-for-19 shooting from the 3-point line when playing Indiana.
As stated prior, it’s crunch time for Indiana. The season and its tournament hopes are up in the air and these last eight games will be the deciding factor.
Iowa on Thursday night could be a swing in the right direction or a dreaded fifth straight loss.
The real fun starts now.