March Madness: Indiana's guide to the B1G Tournament
Indiana needs wins.
Even only 1 in the B1G Tournament might be enough to get the Hoosiers on the right side of the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. But 2 victories might all but guarantee IU a spot in the Field of 68.
Mike Woodson’s first Indiana squad finds itself in this situation after slipping in the final 6 weeks of the regular season. After beating then-No. 4 Purdue in Assembly Hall on Jan. 20, in what is the highlight of the season so far, the Hoosiers are only 4-8, leaving them 18-12 overall, 9-11 in the Big Ten.
Most projections have IU as either one of the “last 4 teams in” the NCAA Tournament or one of the “first 4 out.” ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has bounced the Hoosiers between the 2 regularly over the last several days. Needless to say, the Hoosiers, the No. 9-seed in the Big Ten Tournament, need at least a win. They’ll play No. 8-seed Michigan on Thursday, in what might be a virtual play-in game, with the winner getting top-seed Illinois the next day.
Let’s take a look at 5 things the Hoosiers need to do to advance in the B1G Tournament:
Find a 3rd scorer
Trayce Jackson-Davis is an All-Big Ten performer who can be counted on for a near-double-double every time Indiana is on the floor.
And Xavier Johnson has been fantastic in the second half of the season, finding his own points within Indiana’s system and facilitating for others, with the point guard playing perhaps his best game of the season in the finale at Purdue, when he combined for 18 points and 12 assists.
But the Hoosiers’ offensive inconsistencies often come down to this: They lack a consistent No. 3 scoring option. Forward Race Thompson is averaging nearly 12 points per game, but does so in largely as a clean-up man, not as a go-to scorer. Miller Kopp and Parker Stewart have shown flashes of perimeter scoring ability, but not consistently. If Indiana is to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament, and get to the NCAAs, it needs another regular double-figure scorer on the perimeter.
Get through Thursday
The pressure will be on the Hoosiers in its Thursday matchup with Michigan. Each team is looking for another W, hoping to get itself off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. Is it as easy as saying the matchup is an NCAA play-in game? Perhaps not. But the winner certainly will have a slightly better résumé come Selection Sunday.
And after the first game, the pressure might be significantly lowers, because A) Indiana will feel better about its NCAA chances and B) It’ll be an underdog to No. 1 seed Illinois.
Out of foul trouble
For Indiana to beat Michigan, then perhaps upset Illinois, it’ll need Jackson-Davis to stay out of foul trouble.
It’s gotten him at times this season, where an early couple of fouls have taken him out of games in the first half. And games against Michigan and Illinois would present Indiana with 2 of the best centers in the Big Ten in Hunter Dickinson and Kofi Cockburn. Would the Hoosiers be able to survive a tournament game without Jackson-Davis turning in a solid performance? Unlikely.
As Indiana slumped during the second half of the Big Ten season, Woodson expressed his concern of the Hoosiers’ mental makeup, thinking they were letting past demons get in the way of success.
It’s been since 2016 since Indiana last made the NCAA Tournament, a drought that has worn on the fanbase and players. It left Woodson to wonder whether the past collapses were influencing the current team, and rather than playing with confidence, they were playing under pressure.
If Indiana is to advance, then it needs to let the demons of the past be in the past.
If Indiana could only play well in the final 5 minutes of games, the season might have unfolded significantly different.
But alas, IU is where it is, because it’s not been able to close out games. In contests decided by 6 points of less, IU is only 2-6. Two of the 6 losses are recent, when the Hoosiers dropped last-minute contests at Purdue, then at home to Rutgers. Had those final minutes gone the other way — an extra stop or rebound or a made basket — IU would likely be in a different place right now, feeling good about its NCAA chances rather than wondering whether it’ll be the Dance or the NIT.
If IU is to advance past Thursday’s matchup with Michigan, it’ll likely need to make plays in the final minutes, but the history hasn’t been good.