There are four games to play and Indiana is now 8-6 in the Big Ten.
The other two games are home games at Assembly Hall against Michigan State and Iowa, two teams still very much in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth.
And so here’s the question: How many games does Indiana have to win in the final four to feel comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field?
My first inclination was three. Three wins would give you 11 in the conference and I believe any team with 11 Big Ten wins make the Big Dance.
My colleague, Justin Albers, said in our postgame video analysis tonight following IU’s 67-63 loss to Purdue that he believes the Hoosiers could go 2-2 and then win one in the Big Ten Tournament and still be in the NCAA field.
Perhaps that’s true. But I’m thinking if you’re Indiana you don’t want to leave anything to chance. You need to find a way to win three games and four would obviously be even better.
So as we look at those last four Big Ten games, how do you see the matchups?
Sunday, Feb. 22 at Rutgers: Indiana has really struggled on the road and to that point also didn’t play all that well the first time it faced the Scarlet Knights. The Hoosiers won that game 72-64 but it was closer than that down the stretch. But here’s the thing with the Rutgers game. Rutgers has dropped 10 Big Ten games in a row. If the Hoosiers somehow went to New Jersey and lost on Sunday, it could be a disaster. This is clearly a game that Indiana has to find a way to win.
Wednesday, Feb. 25 at Northwestern: This is another game you’d expect Indiana to be able to win on the road but at the same time the Wildcats have played two pretty good games back-to-back after really struggling for most of the Big Ten season. Northwestern has beaten Iowa in overtime at home and won at Minnesota on Wednesday night. Those two wins came after the Wildcats had lost 10 games in a row in conference. I still think this is another game that Indiana has to find a way to win.
If the Hoosiers can win those two games on the road, all of a sudden things will be a little less stressful heading into the final two games against Iowa and Michigan State.
March 3, vs. Iowa: The Hawkeyes are an extremely difficult team to figure out. In the last eight games they are 3-5. They lost in overtime at Northwestern. They lost at home to Minnesota. But then they beat Maryland by 16 at home, swept Ohio State and beat Michigan by 18 on the road. Of the final two homes games, I would think this would be the one that Indiana would have the best chance at winning. But a lot will also depend on what Indiana team shows up on that particular day.
March 7, vs. Michigan State: The Spartans are playing pretty good ball and have won five out of the last six. Four of those wins were by double figures. MSU beat Northwestern on the road by 22. And let’s don’t forget how they manhandled Indiana in East Lansing early in the conference season. It was 70-50 but it could have been much worse. Let’s say IU is 2-1 in the previous three games heading into this one and IU approaches this as a must-win game. Then I would expect it to be an all-out war.
Whether IU needs to win two, three or four games, the one thing that is clear is that it needs to find a way to go on the road Sunday at Rutgers and come home with a victory.
We’ll know a lot more about this Indiana team after that one.