After tying the game with 10 minutes to go in regulation and scoring just eight points the rest of the way to lose 70-60 to Nebraska Wednesday night at Assembly Hall, those hopes have been all but shattered.
Although things aren't set in stone, IU likely would have needed to reach 20 wins to give the Hoosiers their best and most realistic chances to participate in March Madness. Coming into Wednesday at 17-12, the most conceivable way to hit the mark would have come from beating the Cornhuskers, followed by two wins in the Big Ten Tournament – at least one certain to be an upset.
Getting to the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament would likely mean IU had 20 wins, including possibly five over ranked opponents – a statistic they would hope would erase home losses to Penn State and Northwestern in the minds of the voters.
But now with another home conference loss to a team who they lost to earlier in the season on the road, making it to the semi-finals likely won't be enough. Hoosier fans will need to hope for what a much more talented IU squad couldn't bring home last season: a Big Ten Tournament title.
After Wednesday night, IU can finish no better than seventh in the conference standings. They're currently tied with Minnesota at seventh with a 7-10 Big Ten record, sitting in the eighth seed because of the team's loss to Minnesota on the road earlier this season.
Behind them, Illinois stands at 6-11, with both Penn State and Northwestern at 5-11 in the 10th and 11th spots, meaning the Hoosiers potentially could fall even further in the standings before the season ends Saturday.
The players, including senior Will Sheehey, sound confident that the Hoosiers can move on, make the necessary corrections and go into the Michigan game Saturday as well as the Big Ten Tournament next week as strong and confident as anyone, but whether they can play consistently enough to make a run is yet to be seen.
"We got to make sure we just go down swinging," Sheehey said. "This might have been my last home game, but it's not my last game. We have numerous practices, numerous games left. Just because we lost one game doesn't mean we're not going to play the next game as hard as we possibly can. We've got to come out and play like we know we can, defensively and offensively. We still have a shot at this thing."
Unless the Hoosiers make a miraculous late-season run, more than likely IU fans will get another shot to watch their team inside Assembly Hall this season during the NIT Tournament. There's no speculation as to how many games IU might host – or how far they would even make it. After watching the Hoosiers beat Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State and losing to Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern within Assembly Hall, anything from a No. 1 seed Kentucky team losing in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris or Iowa making it to the finals – both which happened last year – is possible.
"The self inflicted mistakes are always going to bother you, and so that's the kind of stuff that we've got to overcome," Tom Crean said.