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IU men's basketball's potential path to the NCAA Tournament


Freshman guard Romeo Langford reaches for the goal Feb. 26 during the game against Wisconsin in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU will face University of Illinois on March 7. Ty Vinson

As the IU men’s basketball season comes to a close, it’s time to take stock of where IU is in terms of the postseason picture.

The Hoosiers have gone from a surefire NCAA Tournament selection during their best run of form in non-conference play to basically playing their way out of postseason contention with a spell of 12 losses in 13 games during Ten play.

But recent home wins against Wisconsin and Michigan State, teams that were both ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press poll at the time of the games, have combined with IU’s solid nonconference résumé to put the team back on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Entering Thursday night’s game at Illinois, IU has a 15-14 overall record with a 6-12 mark in conference games. There are two regular season games left, followed by the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament from March 13 to 17 in Chicago.

Taking a look at IU’s season to date, here are the possible ways IU’s postseason hopes will play out, organized by the number of overall wins IU finishes the season with.

15 Wins

Losing three consecutive games to end the season would not only shatter IU’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but it would also likely deny IU a chance to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

16 Wins

In this scenario, IU would either lose one of its final two regular season games, either at Illinois or at home against Rutgers. IU could also lose its first conference tournament game, or lose both regular season games and win one tournament game.

This scenario would likely feature IU playing in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament as one of the bottom four teams in the regular season standings.

Simply put, there is no viable path to the NCAA Tournament if this occurs. IU’s overall record would be too close to .500 and it would also feature at least two more losses to bad Big Ten teams.

17 Wins

This is one of the more likely scenarios for the Hoosiers. The odds are decent IU defeats both Illinois and Rutgers to compile a 17-14 record entering the conference tournament before crashing out at the first hurdle to a team like Ohio State, Iowa or Minnesota.

IU’s history in the Big Ten Tournament is also not encouraging, as IU has a 12-21 all-time record in the event.

Finishing with 17 wins, despite a plethora of quality wins, still likely leaves IU on the outside looking in for a tournament spot.

18 Wins

This is where things get interesting.

If IU beats Illinois and Rutgers, secures a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, and avenges a loss against one of the aforementioned teams in the second round, then IU’s NCAA Tournament hopes seemingly become a coin-flip.

Of course, IU could also lose out, then reach the conference tournament semifinals to finish with 18 wins, but the likelihood of that is low.

Basically, IU’s résumé doesn’t need quality wins right now, it needs quantity.

19 Wins

With its current total of 15 wins, IU remains on the bubble for most NCAA Tournament bracketologists in the “Next Eight Teams Out” category. Winning four more games between now and the end of the season likely slides IU into an NCAA Tournament spot.

Reaching the semifinals of the conference tournament should be the benchmark for Coach Archie Miller’s team in terms of feeling good about its postseason prospects.

The simplest formula would be two more regular season wins, plus victories in the second round and the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. That would force IU to beat a team which finished in the top four of the regular season conference standings, should get the job done for at least a First Four slot in Dayton, Ohio.

20 + Wins or conference tournament victory

It goes almost without saying that the safest, most reliable path to the NCAA Tournament for any team, let alone one with as complicated a résumé as IU, is to win its conference tournament. This grants an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament without having to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Even if the team doesn’t pull off a run for the ages in Chicago, 20 wins would still require the Hoosiers to at least reach the Big Ten Tournament final.

If Miller’s team finishes the season with 20 wins, feel free to pencil in IU for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. IU would also likely avoid a First Four matchup in the process.

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