Selection Sunday is less than three weeks away, there are only four regular season games left to play, and Indiana basketball is stuck right where it has been the whole season — the bubble.
Last Saturday’s home loss and collapse to Michigan State was the latest, and perhaps the epitome, of this team’s struggles to close games, maintain leads and build consistency.
It was, simply put, a game Indiana had to have in order to ease its aspirations to make the NCAA Tournament. Indiana is now 12-10 overall and 7-8 in the Big Ten.
The road has become a lot more difficult, and Indiana has limited time to prove itself.
There are only four games left on the schedule and none of them are easy.
- At Rutgers (12-9): Wednesday, Feb. 24
- Versus No. 3 Michigan (16-1): Saturday, Feb. 27
- At Michigan State (11-9): Tuesday, March 2
- At Purdue (15-8): Saturday, March 6
At a quick glance, the Michigan and Purdue games will be especially challenging considering that Indiana is winless against both programs in the Archie Miller era.
Both the Rutgers and Indiana games present revenge opportunities, too. Michigan State obviously just beat IU in Assembly Hall, and Rutgers squeaked out a four-point win in Bloomington in January as well.
Regardless of the opponent and the final score, Indiana needs wins. Plain and simple.
Anything is possible when it comes to how teams on the bubble shift or perform, so it is nearly impossible to predict the number of wins Indiana needs in order to make the tournament. At the same time, the Hoosiers likely need to at least split in the final four games to have a shot.
If it were to split and go 2-2, Indiana would finish the regular season with a winning record at 14-12.
No matter what happens in the final regular season games, the Big Ten Tournament is going to be a major wildcard.
Any number of wins Indiana gets there would help either put the Hoosiers over the hump and off the bubble, or potentially be just enough to put them ahead of a team they’re competing down to the wire with.
It’s likely that there won’t be any concrete answers until Selection Sunday on March 14.
Until then, let’s take a look into the Rutgers and Michigan matchups that Indiana will face this week.
This game could be one of Indiana’s most intense matchups of the season. Both teams are in need of a win to solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament with Indiana at 12-10 and Rutgers at 12-9.
Indiana will be looking to avenge its 74-70 loss in Bloomington on Jan. 24, but the Hoosiers have really struggled in Piscataway as of late. Indiana has lost there in two consecutive seasons, last winning in 2018.
In order for that trend to end, Indiana is going to need to adjust for Myles Johnson on offense and slow down Rutgers’ guards.
Johnson perhaps gave Trayce Jackson-Davis the most difficult time of any individual matchup this entire season. Johnson limited Jackson-Davis to 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting and forced him into perhaps one of his slowest starts of any game.
Lately, Jackson-Davis has been starting out strong at a faster pace. When Jackson-Davis is slow out of the gate, the Hoosiers’ offense lags behind, too.
From a defensive standpoint, Indiana’s attention is on Ron Harper Jr. and Jacob Young who score 16 and 14.2 points per game, respectively. If these two get going, it could be really problematic for the Hoosiers’ chances.
Last week, Indiana had zero answers for on-ball defense of opposing teams’ guards. Aaron Henry willed Michigan State to a win with 27 points and Minnesota’s Jamal Mashburn Jr., who had been averaging about six points per game prior, scored 19.
To cap off the week, Indiana will get the treat of playing the Big Ten’s undisputed best team and one of the best teams in the country.
The Wolverines are 16-1 and are on a roll even after a 23-day pause due to COVID-19.
This game will be extremely challenging and a major test for Indiana’s offense. Michigan scores just under 80 points per game (79.2) but has the ability to go well beyond that. Last Sunday, the Wolverines hung 92 points on Ohio State.
Michigan is so lethal offensively because the team can score in a number of ways with tremendous depth. Michigan has six players who score eight or more points per game.
The two standouts, though, are Hunter Dickinson and Isaiah Livers. Dickinson is the frontrunner for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, averaging 15 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a 7-foot-1 center.
Livers is the veteran, scoring 14.4 points per game in his senior campaign with a lethal 42.9% 3-point percentage.
While it scores a lot, Michigan also defends very well, too. The Wolverines only allow their opposition to score 66.2 points per game — a +13 average margin of victory for Michigan.
Indiana will need to bring its A-game in every way on Saturday for a chance at an upset.