IU men’s basketball’s season has suddenly flipped from the lull of a four-game losing streak and the team hurtling toward falling out of the NCAA Tournament to it playing its best basketball once again.
IU has a chance to solidify its tournament resume when it travels to play Purdue at 7 p.m. Thursday in West Lafayette, Indiana.
“I think for so long we played games where guys worried about playing on offense, ‘Why can't you score?' 'Why are you this?’ ‘Why are you that?’ At the end of the day that's irrelevant. If you're great defensively, you're going to have a chance,” IU head coach Archie Miller said after the win over Penn State on Saturday.
With a road win over Minnesota and an upset over Penn State, IU is back to playing its best basketball after a rough stretch in early February. And March Madness is very clearly on the horizon as a result.
But Miller said he’s trying not to focus on the bigger picture right now, and the same goes for his players. They are all trying to take it one game at a time, and that starts with the trip to face rival Purdue.
Despite all the attention surrounding former head coach Bob Knight’s return Feb. 8, IU put forth one of its worst performances in Assembly Hall this season that day against Purdue. The Hoosiers have now lost six straight times to the Boilermakers and nine of the last 10 games.
Even with its 14-14 record, Purdue is 36th in the NET, and IU is 52nd. It’s a Quadrant 1 game for IU, and it comes in an arena that has been difficult for road teams all season.
Purdue beat Michigan State by 29, Iowa by 36 and defending national champion University of Virginia by 29 all at Mackey. IU hasn’t won in West Lafayette since 2013.
But the Hoosiers will enter Mackey Arena with momentum, coming off yet another upset win.
In a win over then-No. 9 Penn State, IU made another statement to the Selection Committee about why it belongs in the NCAA Tournament field. After a season filled with so much inconsistency — the highs of upset wins at home and the lows of struggling on the road — IU has put together a reputable resume.
The Hoosiers haven’t made the NCAA Tournament during Miller’s tenure. Seniors Devonte Green and De’Ron Davis have never been dancing in March either.
But if IU keeps up the current pace, that could all change.
“We found a way to finish,” Miller said after the win over Penn State. “And at the end of the week, we got two wins this week. Played hard in both games, had great attitude. Played with high-level effort and I thought for the most part we played smart.”
The Bracket Matrix, which tracks every projected NCAA Tournament bracket and creates a composite seed list from that, listed IU as the third No. 9 seed as of Tuesday. The Hoosiers have an average seed of 9.36 across the 103 brackets used for the composite rankings. IU's best seed projection is 7 and worst is 12. And IU is listed in all 103 brackets.
The win over Penn State was IU’s fifth win over a ranked team, and the sixth Quadrant 1 victory. As of Tuesday’s NET Rankings, IU had wins over the No. 8, 13, 19, 25, 27 and 42 ranked teams. IU was 37th in the KenPom rankings as of Tuesday.
In a Big Ten conference that is so deep with talented teams, going 2-2 to close the season would have IU finish at 10-10 in conference play and 20-11 overall. That record would allow IU to get a bye past opening Wednesday at the Big Ten Tournament and almost ensure a place in the NCAA Tournament field.
And while Purdue may be on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament for the time being, another Quadrant 1 win, let alone a road victory, would only solidify what is becoming a complete IU resume.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the time and date of the game against Purdue. The game is at 7 p.m. Thursday. The IDS regrets this error.
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