If it wasn't already clear before the Indiana Hoosiers lost to Nebraska on Thursday night, it's now clear that IU is not likely to return to the NCAA tournament this year.
Instead, an appearance in the National Invitational Tournament is seemingly inevitable for the Hoosiers.
IU currently sits at 13-8 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers will have to win seven of their next 10 games to reach 20 wins—and six of their next 10 to finish .500 in the conference. If not, they will likely need to win the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis to reach the NCAA tournament.
There is still a lot of time left to correct these issues, but the schedule does not get any easier.
Two games against Big Ten leader Michigan loom, including one on Sunday. Rematches with Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska await, as do trips to Minnesota and Purdue. In addition, Iowa and Ohio State will come to Bloomington.
Indiana is currently in eighth place in the Big Ten, and only three teams below the Hoosiers (Purdue, Penn State, Nebraska) are still on the schedule. IU has already lost to two teams below them in the standings, Illinois and Nebraska.
Obviously, this is a team with a lot of weaknesses. There has been little scoring from anybody besides Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh. Turnovers have been contagious, and many potential scoring plays end with missed shots or turnovers thanks to lack of confidence on the court.
Still, Indiana has been close in most of its games, and those losses to tough Big Ten teams are not anything to be ashamed of. However, win/loss records matter the most, and the Hoosiers have struggled to beat even lesser teams such as Illinois, Notre Dame and Nebraska.
Indiana’s confidence has to be taking hit after hit from these losses. The momentum-building victories over Wisconsin and Illinois have both been followed by gut-wrenching losses to Northwestern and Nebraska, respectively.
That said, the Hoosiers will struggle to win half of their remaining games. Indiana should defeat Penn State again and solve it against Nebraska the second time, but all other games will be very difficult for IU.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in the Big Ten, and it is absolutely possible that Indiana could upset a top-tier Big Ten team or two as the season progresses. As it is, the Hoosiers were able to shock Wisconsin earlier this season in addition to several near-upsets.
At the same time, and especially unless IU solves its weaknesses, the Hoosiers could be upset themselves by a team at the bottom of the conference, as was the case in Lincoln on Thursday.
We can’t forget that this is still a young team. Expectations were understandably low for Indiana this year, and it wasn't supposed to be the season for Banner No. 6 by any means.
Still, what must disappoint Indiana fans is that with all of the close games they have played, the Hoosiers could easily be 7-1 in the Big Ten and in second place behind Michigan.
If the season continues to get even worse, IU may even be left out of the NIT, as was the case during Tom Crean’s first three seasons at Indiana and the disappointing 2003-04 campaign under Mike Davis.
Should Indiana not even be invited to the NIT, a possible tournament for the Hoosiers is the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). Purdue competed in this tournament last year, losing to eventual champion Santa Clara in the quarterfinals.
There are still plenty of questions as to what postseason tournament Indiana will participate in this year—or even if they are invited to one. If there is one, it just won't likely be the Big Dance.
Statistics from IUHoosiers.com.
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