When the NCAA Selection Committee showed their top 16 teams this weekend, a grim reality sunk in for the Big Ten. None of the top three teams (Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland) were among those top 16, showing that the Selection Committee does not think highly of the Big Ten this season.
That’s why it was so important for Indiana to beat fellow bubble team Michigan at home. Instead, the Hoosiers lost and now look at the realistic situation of needing to win the rest of their regular season games just to have a chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Unlike the last two losses (at Wisconsin/vs Purdue) where the Hoosiers battled a top team in the conference and fell just short, IU never really gave Michigan much of a battle as the Wolverines scored the first basket and never let Indiana take the lead once. Michigan led by as many as 13 while the Hoosiers never got closer than six points in the second half.
Thomas Bryant, who had averaged 20.2 points over his last five games, was constantly doubled as he was limited to just eight points, five rebounds, and three blocks. Unfortunately, the Hoosiers had a difficult time turning the double team to their advantage and getting the ball to the open man, as Indiana again committed 15 turnovers that led to 20 points for Michigan.
The one person who did step up was De’Ron Davis. Two days removed from taking a shot to the face that made him miss most of the second half against Purdue, Davis was the only Hoosier able to take advantage of Bryant’s double-team as he scored a team-high 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including 5 of 6 from the free throw line.
“He played very well considering shot that he took (against Purdue),” said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean. “And we’ve got to continue to play him more. He’s not as great in the ball screens so that sometimes limits (his minutes). But he’s very, very hard to guard and he’s got great feet, great hands and great eyes.”
Crean was really frank about his team’s performance, saying his team needs to get easier shots on offense and has to play with the same intensity as when shots do go in the basket. He was especially frustrated with the team’s consistent overhelping on defense.
“It makes no sense to be coming off the corners the way that we are with what we have out there. That’s not what we do. We guard the ball. We don’t overhelp because it’s teams like Michigan that can shoot the ball so well.”
Crean also talked about everyone on the team needing to improve communication, including himself.
“It’s very easy to be locked in and connected to one another when the shots are going, but when they aren’t going is when real leadership’s got to emerge. And I’m not shirking the responsibility one iota. One thing I’ve learned in nine years it all falls on me. But the bottom line is that we’ve got to do something to get communication up.”
“We still have a season left to play,” said Robert Johnson about his team at this moment. “So we’re not even thinking about quitting. We always look forward to the next game. Now we’re just looking forward to getting better and moving on to the next game. And that’s another opportunity.
With Indiana probably needing to win out to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, here is a breakdown of the final five games:
- February 15 – at Minnesota
- February 21 – at Iowa
- February 25 – vs Northwestern
- February 28 – at Purdue
- March 4 – at Ohio State
The problem with Indiana’s remaining schedule is it’s difficulty level. The slate of teams may not all be at the top of the Big Ten standings, but that doesn’t matter when you realize the Hoosiers have struggled heavily on the road this season, going 1-5 so far with the one win coming via a James Blackmon Jr. buzzer-beater at Penn State.
There’s also the fact that other than beating Purdue in West Lafayette, none of the other potential wins would be huge resume-building wins. Iowa and Ohio State are likely going to the NIT, and while Minnesota and Northwestern would be nice wins, neither is guaranteed to be in the NCAA Tournament and both would likely take a hit to their resumes if they did lose to Indiana.
Basically the formula for Indiana to have a shot come Selection Sunday is to get a huge win at Purdue and pad the overall record by avoiding anymore losses. It will be a tough road ahead, but if Johnson is right and this team isn’t quitting, they still have chance no matter how small.