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Indiana Daily Student

IU still appears in control of NCAA Tournament destiny

<p>Photo courtesy of the The Badger-Herald. </p>

Photo courtesy of the The Badger-Herald. 

IU lost to No. 5 Wisconsin 92-78 on the road Tuesday night.

Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky was too strong. The Hoosiers’ offense stalled at the wrong times, and the game became lopsided in the opening minutes of the second half. The 14-point deficit, at first glance, projects a game closer than it actually was.

Considering IU was a 15.5-point underdog on oddsshark.com , a result like Tuesday’s wasn’t exactly unexpected.

But what has been unexpected is IU’s body of work as a whole just past halfway through the Big Ten season.

With only eight regular-season games remaining, the Hoosiers (16-7, 6-4) have surpassed preseason expectations and still appear to be fighting for one of the conference’s top-4 tournament seeds at 6-4 in the Big Ten despite an ugly loss in Madison, Wisc.

Not many analysts expected that type of conference start for IU Coach Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Statistics guru Ken Pomeroy had the Hoosiers starting 3-7, which means IU managed to steal three unexpected wins.

Forgetting a 14-point loss to the Badgers for a moment, IU still appears in control of its NCAA Tournament fate after missing out last season.

Latest projections by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm both pin IU an NCAA Tournament 6-seed. USA Today’s Shelby Mast has IU as a 7-seed, as does BracketMatrix, which compiles the results of 81 projections.

At No. 31 in the RPI, IU has a handful of strong nonconference wins that could ultimately help should it ever fall on the bubble. The Hoosiers have wins against RPI No. 17 Butler, No. 21 Southern Methodist and No. 62 Pittsburgh which will help in the eyes of computer projections.

The biggest blemish so far was last week’s loss to No. 78 Purdue. Then there’s that early nonconference loss to No. 73 Eastern Washington at home.

One concerning trend for IU has been repeated struggles playing away from Assembly Hall, which the loss to Wisconsin highlighted.

The Hoosiers are 2-4 on the road in the Big Ten and will travel to Maryland next Wednesday. Lose that game and slip at home against Michigan on Sunday, and all of a sudden IU is .500 in the Big Ten and backpedaling.

Thing could get interesting from there, but that would require IU to start losing at home. That’s been a rare occurrence this season, as IU has dropped only one game in Bloomington this season.

With that in mind, it may be worth noting that five of the Hoosiers’ last eight and four of their last six games will be played at Assembly Hall.

Four of their final eight games are against teams currently in the bottom half of the Big Ten, including games against Rutgers, Northwestern and Minnesota, who occupy three of the last four places in the standings.

After Tuesday’s blowout, Wisconsin has made it clear it’s a contender for an NCAA championship and still controls its championship destiny in the Big Ten.

IU proved it still has work to do.

But all things considered — barring a collapse or an extension of the Wisconsin game — things look fairly good for the Hoosiers as of Wednesday.

They still sit comfortable in the upper half of the Big Ten standings and were ranked just a week ago.

There’s still a full month of basketball left to be played, and any streak, good or bad, could flip the script. If the Wisconsin loss becomes a trend, then IU could be in trouble.

But right now, IU has managed to put itself in a position where it could absorb a blowout in Wisconsin.

Now it’s just a matter of holding on.

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