Imagine this: A team knocks off both a #1- and #-2 ranked squad, plus another top #20 team in a 3-week span . . . and doesn’t make the NCAA tournament.
Is that even possible?
Not likely, I’ll grant you that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Indiana’s current slide — losing four of five — continues. And if it gets as bad as I suspect it will, the Hoosiers — who excited fans, only to disappoint them with a scary skid — could find themselves playing for an NIT banner.
Losing a road game to Wisconsin Thursday night isn’t really a sign of doom in the Big Ten, where road wins are always tough. Nor is losing on the road to Ohio State and Michigan State. These are all top 25 teams, after all, so losing to them on the road is almost expected. But losing to Minnesota at home isn’t as easy to stomach. And losing to Nebraska anywhere is enough to make even the most devout IU fans wanna upchuck their corn.
But, hey, no cause for concern, right? This is the team that shocked Kentucky in dramatic fashion, then went on to poke Ohio State in the eyeballs. Stories in “Sports Illustrated” declared “IU’s BACK!” and there were suggestions that coach Tom Crean was the Cream of the crop.
But with this skid — where IU’s only victory in the past five games is against Penn State, a team that’ would fare much better dunking footballs — there’s fear. And doubt.
To make the NCAA tournament on invitation, you figure, a team generally has to win at least 18 games. But with the Big Ten sporting several solid teams this year, it might take 20. And while the Hoosiers have won 16 already, the way they’re playing, reaching 20 victories might seem as challenging as reaching a 20-foot rim.
Of their next 10 regular season games, the Hoosiers face Michigan, Purdue and Minnesota on the road. They could easily lose all of those, given their inability to win Big Ten road games. They also face Illinois and Michigan State at home. If Minnesota can beat Indiana at home, those two surely can — especially if the team is down and out during their slide.
If they can beat Iowa on the road, Northwestern, Purdue at home and North Carolina Central, that would give them 20 victories. But if they finish, say, 6-10 in the Big Ten, is that enough?
Well, few teams beat a #1 and a #2 team in the same year. In fact, very few even play a 1 and 2 in the same year. So, unless, IU has a total meltdown — and losing 4 of 5 is certainly a visible crack in the smokestacks — they probably will be in the Dance. But if they finish poorly and don’t win a single game in the Big Ten tourney, their dream season can quickly turn into NIT obscurity.
Of course, for a team that was so abysmal the past three years, even that is a remarkable turnaround. And, since diaper dandy Cody Zeller isn’t good enough to go pro next year, this team — with expectations of a powerhouse recruiting class next year — is really just warming up.