Breaking Down the Bubble Banter

One of the most dreaded words to a college basketball fan has crept back into the IU's late February vocabulary. Bubble.

One of the most dreaded words to a college basketball fan has crept back into the IU's late February vocabulary.

Bubble.

Thanks to four losses in its last six games and a 2-8 road record this season, Kelvin Sampson's once seemingly-safe squad has slipped back to the middle of a muddied conference pack. Suddenly, IU must figure out a way to win its final two regular season games – including a road contest tomorrow night at Northwestern – or run the risk of missing out on a first-round Big Ten Tournament bye and being forced to play on the opening day of the conference tourney next week in Chicago.

With the recent slide has come a degree of doubt about just how secure the Hoosiers' NCAA chances are.

At 18-9 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers would be safely in the NCAA field if it was announced today. The latest ESPN Bracketology has the Hoosiers as a No. 10 seed, and every major site that predicts the Big Dance has Indiana safely in the field of 65.

Indiana has some impressive credentials to point to as well. A non-conference win over Southern Illinois in December gets more glamorous by the day, as the 11th-ranked Salukis are 25-5 and could wind up being a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. There's also the victory over No. 4 Wisconsin, a team that is still in contention for a No. 1 seed when the NCAA field is announced in 12 days.

Couple those marquee wins with victories over NCAA-caliber teams like Michigan State, Illinois and Purdue, and there are plenty of bullet points for the Hoosiers to highlight.

The computers are also enamored with IU. Indiana is ranked No. 24 in the RPI and No. 27 according to Jeff Sagarin, and it's virtually unprecedented that a team with those sort of numbers would be passed over by the NCAA Selection Committee.

So IS Indiana on the bubble? No.

But…the NCAA field isn't announced Feb. 27. Instead, the field will be unveiled Sunday, March 11, after two more regular season games and next week's Big Ten Tournament at the United Center in Chicago.

So in the course of the next 12 days COULD Indiana wind up on the bubble?

Absolutely.

It starts with Wednesday's trip to Northwestern, the Hoosiers' final chance to add a true road win to its resume. Coach Bill Carmody's squad is just 2-12 in league play this season, but when one considers IU had to scratch and claw to get a win against a 1-13 Penn State team on the road last month, a win won't necessarily come easily. The Hoosiers follow that up with a home contest against the Lions, a team that hasn't won a basketball game in nearly two months.

While the opportunity to play a pair of teams that are a combined 3-25 in league play should give IU a chance to finish 10-6 in league play and solidify its postseason standing, one upset could be detrimental to the Hoosiers' postseason hopes and two would be disastrous.

Compounding IU's problems would be the fact it doesn't have anything to point to secure its spot against its Big Ten brethren. Splits against Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois and Iowa mean the committee wouldn't have to think twice about taking any of those teams over IU.

So what to make of all the bubble talk about Kelvin Sampson's Hoosiers?

Put it on the back burner…

At least until after tomorrow night.

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