by Kent Sterling
Indiana fancies itself as the state where basketball is king. NBA rosters feature a disproportionate number of men who grew up playing the game in Indiana, and only one time since 1980 have all college programs eligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament been shut out.
2014 might be the second, unless one of the ten teams gets hot in their conference tournament.
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Indiana State might be the best team in the state, and the favorite among Indiana teams to earn an at-large spot in the 68-game field. Greg Lansing’s team has the state’s best RPI at #51, and a 6-1 record in the MVC. Wichita State appears to be a prohibitive favorite to win the regular season title, but Indiana State might be able to raise some hell in the tournament. If Indiana State can win the remaining games in which they will be favored, 22-24 wins plus whatever they add during Arch Madness in St. Louis (the MVC Tournament) can make their resume’ nice and shiny.
The chin-strapped Jake Odum is playing point guard for what seems like his 14th year in Terre Haute, and if you haven’t had a chance to watch him play, you should.
Last night’s 65-61 win over Loyola-Chicago (RPI #298) was nearly a catastrophic loss for the Sycamores and their chances to earn an at-large bid.
Key wins – vs. Belmont (RPI #78), @ Notre Dame (RPI #91), vs. Missouri State (RPI #101)
Key losses – @ Tulsa (RPI #101), @Belmont (RPI #78), @ St. Louis (RPI #31)
Indiana University has only missed the tourney six times since 1980. Three of those came after the arrogance and stupidity of Kelvin Sampson and Rob Senderoff led to NCAA sanctions that decimated the Hoosiers roster. Other than the 2009-2011 period, Indiana missed in 1985 (the first year the field expanded), and two consecutive years under the thoroughly reviled Mike Davis in 2005 and 2006.
At 2-4 in the Big Ten with an RPI of #71, the Hoosiers are likely going to need to finish their final 12 Big Ten games 7-5 to elevate their record to the point where an at-large bid becomes a likelihood. Failing that, Indiana will need to win the Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Key wins – vs. Wisconsin (RPI #3), vs. Washington (RPI #85)
Key Losses – vs. Northwestern (RPI #119), vs. Notre Dame (RPI #91), vs. UConn (RPI #35)
Notre Dame is having a long season – their first in the ACC. That 2-4 conference record, RPI ranking of #91, and a conference tournament with some of the nation’s best teams makes a clear path to the NCAA Tournament very difficult to see. Leading scorer Jerian Grant’s dismissal from the team for academic issues did not help the Fighting Irish, and losing four of five after stunning Duke is not a bellwether for success either.
Mike Brey has led the Irish to four straight bids, but this year appears to be a long shot.
Key wins – vs. Duke (RPI #14), vs Indiana (RPI #71), vs. vs. Delaware (RPI #72)
Key losses – @ Georgia Tech (RPI #144), @Maryland (RPI #70), vs. NC State (RPI #64)
Butler has had a tough time losing overtime games in their first season in the Big East, and have lost every game they have played against competition with an RPI ranked 89th or higher. With an overall record of 11-8 and a conference mark of 1-6, the Bulldogs face a tough road at-large consideration.
If any team in Indiana has a real chance at turning their season around, it’s Butler. If they had scored a single point more in their four OT losses, they would be 15-4 overall and 4-3 in conference. Butler is the poster boy for teams being better than their record shows.
Villanova, Creighton, and Xavier appear to be the cream of the crop in the Big East, but Butler is going to be a tough out in the Big East Tournament.
Key wins – vs Marquette (RPI #90), vs. vs. Princeton (RPI #98), vs. Purdue (RPI #104)
Key losses – vs. DePaul (RPI #89), vs. Georgetown (RPI #67), vs. LSU (RPI #60)
Purdue has an even lower RPI than the Hoosiersat #104, but had shown recent signs of life before a double OT loss at Northwestern Tuesday night. If the light goes on for A.J. Hammons, they could easily elevate into the first division of the Big Ten. That’s a long shot as Hammons has been to same guy since his season at Carmel High School.
The end of the Gene Keady Era was mostly barren of trips to the NCAA Tourney. They missed out in four of his last five seasons (2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005). Matt Painter missed his first season as he rebuilt nearly from scratch, but never since.
The Boilermakers have talent, but at 3-3 in the Big Ten with seven of 12 remaining games against ranked opponents, can’t afford to lose any of the games left that they should win.
Key wins – @ Illinois (RPI #62), @ West Virginia (RPI #101), vs. Boston College (RPI #158)
Key losses – vs. Washington State (RPI #146), @Northwestern (RPI #119), vs. Butler (RPI #93)
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IPFW is in the single bid Summit League, where they boast a 3-1 record. Their RPI of #127 puts them well outside consideration for an at-large bid. The teams from the Dakotas are pretty good in the Summit League, and they will pose the biggest threat to sending IPFW home.
Key wins – vs. North Dakota State (RPI #49)
Key losses – @ Texas A&M CC (RPI # 223), @ South Dakota (RPI #181), @ Miami of Ohio (RPI #166), vs. Eastern Kentucky (RPI #129)
Valpo with an RPI ranking of #208 is not going to get a bid without winning the Horizon League Conference Tournament, and if not for the UW-Green Bay Phoenix they might have a good shot. There are three distinct sects of teams in the Horizon League – the bottom feeders (UIC, Detroit, and Oakland), the good teams (Wright State, Youngstown State, Cleveland State, UW-Milwaukee, and Valpo), and the best (UW-Green Bay).
The Phoenix are undefeated in conference and against the all teams they have played outside the top 60.
Key wins – None
Key losses – @ East Tennessee State (RPI #251), @UCF (RPI #221), vs. Evansville (RPI #220), vs. Wright State (#199), @ Oakland (#171)
Evansville – RPI #220 – is the best team ranked #200 or worse in college hoops. They came very close to beating Xavier on the road, but have found a way to only win seven of 18 against division one opponents. Seven of their 11 losses have been to top 100 teams.
They are going to have a tough time winning the MVC Tournament, but could post an upset of two. Marty Simmons is an outstanding coach who has some young talent – including his son Blake.
Key wins – vs. Mercer (RPI #65)
Key losses – vs. Jackson State (RPI #224), @ Murray State (RPI #196), vs. Drake (RPI #162)
Ball State is 3-12 and winless in the MAC. The Cardinals have one win over a D-1 opponent. There is always hope that they might be able to catch lightning in a bottle, but the light that hope creates in Muncie wouldn’t light a tiny corner of Worthen Arena.
This is James Whitford’s first year as coach, and it’s going to take time for him to build the roster and establish the brand. He came from Arizona, so he has seen how building a winner is done.
The RPI of 314 will improve in year two.
Key wins – none
Key losses – all
IUPUI is 2-16 with an RPI of #320. They have lost their last nine. To write more than that about the 2013-2014 Jaguars would be piling on. The key to success in Indy is to find a way to keep a couple of really good Indianapolis kids home each year. If Indy has a down year producing mid-major quality high school seniors, that will spell trouble for IUPUI – and it has.
Key wins – none
Key losses – all
I think IU will be at least 8-8 and with one B10 tourney win, they get in. They will improve as the season goes at a faster rate than most in the conference because of their youth. I see them sneaking in. However, I have been wrong before, believe it or not.
This is a massive four game stretch they are entering. They host Illinois, travel to Wisconsin, host Michigan, and travel to Minnesota. All winnable – all losable. Could come through it 6-4 in the Big Ten – could be 2-8. Impossible to predict what will happen. Should be a fascinating couple of weeks.