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OPINION: IU men’s basketball may have punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament



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Redshirt-freshman forward Jerome Hunter claps as he is hugged by junior forward Justin Smith at the end of the second half against Michigan State on Jan. 23 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU won 67-63. Alex Deryn

Before the opening tip Thursday, I sat in the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall media room debating with other reporters about how many games IU needed to win to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. After a short discussion, the consensus was that six wins would get the Hoosiers back into the tournament for the first time since 2016.  

The one thing that didn’t cross our minds was the possibility that IU would knock off either of its opponents this week in No. 11 Michigan State or No. 17 Maryland.

While IU swept Michigan State last season in their two meetings, it seemed more like a fluke than a repeatable possibility, and the Hoosiers had already been run off the court once by Maryland earlier this season.

“I think the guys that were here last year understand how hard it is to win,” IU head coach Archie Miller said. “You can't take it for granted, and you can't have any slippage when it comes to the daily process.”

Nothing about this season so far hinted that the Hoosiers were about to pull off a 67-63 upset over the Spartans. From the opening tip, the Hoosiers played with a different edge than they’ve shown all season.

It only took IU 19 games, but it finally realized the only consistent scoring comes from inside the 3-point line.

The Hoosiers were dominant against a big Spartan frontcourt as they scored 34 points in the paint. While much of the credit down-low for IU’s play around the rim will go to junior center Joey Brunk and freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, sophomore guard Rob Phinisee and junior guard Al Durham stood out as the facilitators against Michigan States’ No. 25 defense.  

Phinisee and Durham took it upon themselves to force the ball down-low often, either driving down the lane or feeding the Hoosiers’ forwards, limiting IU to only 12 3-point attempts.

With their newfound offensive roadmap, the Hoosiers have found their path toward success in the home stretch of the season as they’ll face the hardest remaining schedule in the country. All the Hoosiers have to do is avoid a disastrous losing streak as they finish out the season and present their ticket on the way into the big dance.

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