It’s still mid-February, but already some NCAA tournament bubbles are starting to pop.
Indiana is one of the Big Ten teams sitting on that bubble, and they were going to need an incredibly strong finish to get into the Big Dance. Well, that finish is off to anything but a strong start following Wednesday night’s fall-from-ahead collapse of a loss to Penn State.
The Hoosiers fell, 66-65, in Bloomington to one of the Big Ten’s worst teams, and they did it after getting out to as much as a 14-point lead in the second half. But the Nittany Lions engineered an incredible comeback and sealed it with a buzzer-beating layup from Tim Frazier.
So does the loss dash the Hoosiers’ tournament hopes?
It might. The rankings were already unfriendly to Tom Crean’s crew, and they got worse after Wednesday’s loss. Ken Pomeroy’s rankings now put the Hoosiers at No. 61, while ESPN’s Daily RPI has them at No. 91.
And it’s not too hard to see why Indiana’s ranked so low. The Hoosiers are a mediocre 14-10 on the season, with a 4-7 conference record, and they’re just 4-8 against other top-100 teams in ESPN’s RPI rankings. The Hoosiers might have scored that impressive upset win over Michigan earlier this month, but overall they’ve lost five of their last seven games.
“We've got to go back to work tomorrow,” Crean said after the game Wednesday. “I can't psychoanalyze it. We've got to go back to work tomorrow. It is what it is. This team beat Michigan a week ago. It's just we've got to come back. That's the way it is. I'll be there. You know what I mean? That's the bottom line. We've got to get ourselves ready to go beat Purdue. That is the bottom line.”
The Hoosiers missed the NCAA tournament in each of Crean’s first three seasons in Bloomington, but he re-shaped them into a team that won a total for 56 games over the past two seasons. Now, though, with last year’s experienced group all but gone, things are much different.
For a team that was a one-seed in last year’s tournament, simply reaching the field of 68 is looking very unlikely at the moment. And four ranked teams — Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan — remain on the regular-season schedule, with half those games coming on the road.
Barring a miracle run in the Big Ten tournament, Indiana could be facing a different kind of March Madness: just plain mad.