The final eight games of the Big Ten season are upon us.
With a 6-4 Big Ten record, the argument could be made that Indiana has positioned itself well for an NCAA Tournament qualifying run if the Hoosiers can take of business.
IU plays five of its final eight games at home. Two of the three road games are against Rutgers and Northwestern, the bottom two teams in the conference standings with a combined Big Ten record of 3-18.
IU is 13-1 at home this season including 4-0 in Big Ten play in Assembly Hall.
Now the Hoosiers just need to play at a high level on a consistent basis.
This is where things get a little tricky.
The Hoosiers have had stretches this season where they look like a team that no one would want to play in the NCAA Tournament. With the ability to knock down 3-point shots at the rate that Indiana does, you don’t want to catch IU on the wrong night.
At the same time, with the way the Hoosiers have played on the defensive end frequently this season, you could make the argument that IU is exactly the kind of team you’d like to get in the NCAA Tournament. In four Big Ten road games in particular, the Hoosiers have really struggled to get stops.<’p.
All of which brings us to the final eight conference games beginning today with a banged up Michigan team in a nationally televised game on CBS.
For Indiana to be in good position to qualify for an NCAA Tournament slot, I believe IU has to find a way to get a minimum of five wins in the next eight games. That would put the Hoosiers with 21 wins overall and an 11-7 mark in conference play. If you can win six of those games, a 12-6 Big Ten mark would look a lot better.
At the same time, if you went 4-4 in this stretch you’d still have a winning record in conference play at 10-8 but I would think you’d probably have work to do in the Big Ten Tournament.
That’s why five wins or more in this eight-game stretch is imperative for the Hoosiers.
Can be done? Absolutely. Will it be done? That depends on which IU team shows up over the next eight games.
Here’s my prediction: I think IU will go 5-3 and finish with that 11-7 Big Ten record.
How do I think they’ll get there? Good question. You could make a pretty strong case that Indiana could go 7-1 in this stretch and finish as one of the top four teams in the Big Ten. And with the way IU has played on the road of late, you could make an equally strong case that the Hoosiers won’t be able beat Rutgers or Northwestern either.
I expect IU to win four of its final five home games. The loss could come just about anywhere. Every team IU plays down the stretch has good wins this year. Perhaps IU runs the table and wins them all but that Purdue game is one that based on the way things played out in West Lafayette you have to wonder how the result will be in Bloomington?
And I expect IU to win at least one more road game and maybe two.
So my expectation is that IU finds a way to get itself into NCAA Tournament position.
Now, we’ll just have to sit back and see how this team is able to get there.
As always with Indiana basketball of late, it should be an interesting ride.