Forget about all of this bubble talk.
When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, Indiana is with the "in" crowd.
Some have suggested the fifth-seeded Hoosiers would be well served to pick up a win over fourth-seeded Wisconsin Friday afternoon to erase any lingering doubts about their tourney merits. A loss to the Badgers, some seem to think, will make Selection Sunday an evening of trepidation for Hoosier players and fans alike.
But I say, don't sweat it. While an Indiana win would enhance the Hoosiers' NCAA Tournament seeding and avenge a 18-point setback to the Badgers last month in Madison, it's hardly a must-have in my mind.
Why? After Indiana picked up back-to-back road wins last week at Purdue and Michigan, there are no more red flags on the Hoosiers' NCAA resume.
The NCAA Selection Committee weighs a slew of criteria when it comes to picking its 34 at-large teams, and all them reflect positively on the Hoosiers. For example:
Road/Neutral Court Record – For all that was made about the Hoosiers' six straight Big Ten road losses, they head into this week's Big Ten Tournament with a 7-7 record away from Assembly Hall. There are only two teams in the Big Ten with winning road/neutral court records (Ohio State is 7-3 and Illinois is 9-4), and Indiana compares favorably to Iowa (5-8), Wisconsin (5-8) and Michigan (5-6).
When you look nationwide, IU's .500 road/neutral record stacks up nicely as well. In the Big East, Cincinnati (5-7), Marquette (6-7), West Virginia (7-7) and Seton Hall (5-6) are at or below .500. In the ACC there's Florida State (6-6), in the Pac-10 there's Arizona (6-9) and Cal (6-6), and in the SEC there's Alabama (3-7) and Arkansas (5-7). And these aren't teams on the outside looking in. Every one of those teams is in the field of 65 in ESPN's most recent projection.
When push comes to shove, IU's performance away from Assembly Hall will help, not hurt.
RPI – Indiana is currently No. 33 in the latest ESPN InsideRPI rankings, a lofty mark that has traditionally been good enough to get teams into the NCAA field. Perhaps more importantly, Indiana is ahead of the likes of Bradley (No. 34), Michigan (37), Air Force (38), Kentucky (39), Creighton (42), Syracuse (43), UAB (44), Maryland (47)…all teams that have been said to be either safely in or on the bubble. It will be hard to take any of those teams ahead of Indiana, particularly when the Hoosiers are coming out of the RPI's top-ranked conference.
Good vs. Bad Losses – Seven of Indiana's ten losses have come against teams ranked in the RPI's top 20. That includes setbacks to Duke (No. 1), UConn (3), Illinois (9), Iowa twice (14), Michigan State (16) and Wisconsin (17). Indiana has two losses against teams ranked outside the RPI's top 100 (Penn State, Indiana State).
Quality Wins – Indiana has a 6-7 record against teams ranked in the RPI top 40. That includes a trio of wins over teams ranked in the RPI's top 20 – Ohio State (5), Illinois (9) and Michigan State (16).
A year ago Indiana argued that its fourth-place finish in the Big Ten, coupled with one of the nation's toughest schedules, merited inclusion into the NCAA tourney. What kept it out, though, was the fact that despite the challenging slate, the Hoosiers had very few quality wins to point to. Indiana's only victories over NCAA Tournament teams were homecourt victories over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Minnesota. This year Indiana likely has six wins over teams that will be included in the field of 65.
Strong Finish – At one time this appeared like it was going to be a big problem for the Hoosiers, but with four straight wins the Hoosiers are 5-5 in their last 10 and 4-1 in their last five.
The biggest of the bunch is the 69-67 victory at Michigan, a quality win on the road in the regular season finale. If there was one thing lacking on IU's resume it was the fact that none of its true road victories (Western Illinois, Charlotte, Ball State and Purdue) came against a team ranked in the top 100 in the RPI (Charlotte was the best at No. 102). But with the victory over No. 37 Michigan, the Hoosiers showed they could go into a hostile environment against a good team and emerge victorious.
With all of that in mind, rest assured that Indiana's two-year NCAA Tournament drought will come to an end Sunday. It's not a matter of if Indiana's name will appear on the board, only when.
For those who still think Indiana was on the outside looking in?
Sorry to burst your bubble.
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