After Indiana lost to Purdue on Feb. 28 to drop to 16-14 and 6-11 and Big Ten, conventional wisdom said the Hoosiers would need to win the Big Ten Tournament to make it to the Big Dance. Two games later, the situation may be shifting.
IU has won two straight, including a blowout 95-73 win of bubble-dwelling Iowa on Thursday, to improve to 18-14 and possibly reinsert itself into the conversation for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Both wins came over teams in the RPI top 100, raising Indiana's record against such teams to 9-12 on the season.
The Hoosiers' win over Ohio State to close out the regular season prompted ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi to move Indiana from off of his board completely into the final spot in the "next four out" category, meaning Lunardi thought there were eight teams between the Hoosiers and an at-large bid.
One of those seven teams was the Hawkeyes, who Indiana dismantled in front of a national audience in the Big Ten Tournament. Heading into Friday's matchup with No. 24 Wisconsin, Indiana now stands as the sixth team out by Lunardi's calculations.
Of course, winning against Wisconsin is an absolute must for the Hoosiers. A victory over the winner of the Maryland-Wisconsin game today will likely be a neccesity as well, but it certainly seems like the "Indiana as an at-large team" scenario has become plausible again. Here are the teams ahead of Indiana in Lunardi's bracket, some of whom are playing as I write this, so that IU fans can root against them.
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 7-12
The Bulldogs (19-13, 9-9) lost today to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament and will have to sit and await their fate until Sunday. Mark Fox's team does not boast any wins against top 25 teams and lost to Kansas early in the season, 65-54, a factor the selection committee would likely take into account in choosing between Indiana and Georgia. If Indiana beats Wisconsin, the Hoosiers will boast three wins better than Georgia's best win.
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 6-11
The Golden Bears (21-11, 10-8) are currently on Lunardi's "first four out" line, but will have a tremendous opportunity to climb the ladder tonight when they take on No. 5 Oregon. The Bears and the Ducks will face off at 9 p.m. EST, so that will be a game for Indiana fans to watch if the Hoosiers can defeat Wisconsin. Cal has already lost to Oregon twice this season.
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 4-6
The Cougars 21-9 (12-6 in conference play), but it came in the AAC, a conference with only two likely tournaments teams (Cincinnati and SMU), neither of which Houston beat during the season. As Eamonn Brennan says in his "Bubble Watch" for ESPN, "[Houston] has stubbornly remained on the fringe because it hasn't beaten anyone better than Rhode Island." A loss to Connecticut tonight at 9:30 p.m. EST (another game IU fans can take an interest in after the Hoosiers finish) would likely knock them off the bubble, allowing IU to leapfrog them with a win over Wisconsin.
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 2-4
The Redbirds (27-6, 17-1) are powerless for the rest of the week and with wins in their next two games, Indiana would likely surpass them in the committee's eyes. ISU dominated in conference play but lost two of its three contests against the Missouri Valley's other titan, Wichita State, including a 71-51 drubbing in the conference title game. Their best win is the one against the Shockers, but they also have losses to San Francisco, Murray State and Tulsa and Strength of Schedule of 155. A 20-win Indiana team with wins over Kansas, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maryland/Northwestern would get in over Illinois State.
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 8-7
The Rams (21-9, 13-5) are still alive in their conference tournament, but they need to win two more games against lesser teams before they get a chance at a quality win over VCU in the conference title game (assuming VCU isn't upset before then). At this moment, URI leads St. Bonaventure by six at halftime. A loss in that game would likely be an eliminator from consideration for Rhode Island. The Rams did post a quality win over Cincinnati and hung with then-No. 1 Duke earlier in the season before falling 75-65.
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 8-12
The Wildcats (20-12, 8-10) are the team that Indiana needs to get past to find the right side of the bubble, according to Lunardi's calculations, where KSU is the final team in the field. Their resume is not all that dissimilar from Indiana's, with an under-.500 record in conference play bolstered by three wins over then-top 10 teams (West Virginia and Baylor twice). The second victory over Baylor came in the Big 12 Tournament, putting Kansas State on the right side of the bubble and setting up a rematch with WVU at 3:30 p.m. EST. A win in that game would likely seal a spot for Kansas State, but a loss could open the door for Indiana.