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The regular season has ended in College Hoops and all eyes are focused on the upcoming NCAA tournament. There are several teams currently on the outside looking in, needing strong conference tournament performances and/or a little bit of luck to earn their ticket. Indiana and Belmont, according to Joe Lunardi, are two such teams. Here’s what they need to happen before Selection Sunday to make sure their name is called.
It’s been a head-scratching season for the Hoosiers. Indiana jumped out to a 12-2 (3-0) start to the season, with quality wins over Marquette and Louisville, but then went on to lose 12 of their next 13 games. The one team they beat in that stretch: 6th ranked Michigan State on the road. It’s just been that kind of season. But over their last four they’ve managed to pull things together and show some consistency, featuring back-to-back wins against Wisconsin and Michigan State. The tournament selection committee has certainly shown a historical preference for hot teams and favors quality wins more than it punishes bad losses. What’s more is that Indiana has shown they can play with anyone and could make some serious noise in the actual tournament. The real problem, though, is the crowded waitlist for Big 10 bids. There are already 7 teams from the Big 10 projected to make the tournament, and it might not even be that many—only 4 made it to the ‘Big Dance’ in 2018.
Still, there is good news for Indiana: if they can top Ohio State in the first round of the Big 10 tournament on Thursday, they will get another shot at Michigan State. They’ve given the Spartans fits all season and are fully capable of completing the 3-game sweep. Should they win that and make it to the semifinals (and not lose embarrassingly there), they will have all but punched their ticket. If they are unable to beat Michigan State for a third time, however, it will take a bad first round loss from another bubble team like Iowa or Minnesota to help their case. And if they cannot take care of business against Ohio State, they can kiss their tournament dreams goodbye altogether. Let’s hope that’s not the case; Indiana could definitely bring the madness to March this year.
Contrary to a lot of bubble teams, the Bruins can’t do anything to help their tournament cause. They could have last Saturday when they faced Murray State for the Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game, but they lost, so instead of securing their spot in the dance they are now left in a helpless position, hoping for the good graces of the selection committee.
Belmont roped together an impressive year, going 26-5 and 16-2 in conference play, including a quality win against UCLA and playing 13th ranked Purdue very tough in a 73-62 defeat that was a lot closer than the score might indicate. They didn’t have a particularly tough schedule but were able to beat what was in front of them—the sorrow song of mid-majors everywhere.
The unfortunate prospect for Belmont is that they weren’t picked for the tournament last year in what was a near identical season—20+ wins, a semi-final victory over Austin Peay and a championship loss to Murray State. Their tournament resume isn’t particularly strong either, with an 0-7 all-time record over the 53 years they’ve had a D1 program. They also just took a big blow in the way of Saint Mary’s upsetting Gonzaga for the WCC conference title. Saint Mary’s was another hopeful bubble team until they took the automatic bid, leaving Gonzaga to snatch up an at-large bid. Belmont will need teams like Houston, VCU, and New Mexico State to win their conference tournaments as expected so they don’t steal away even more of the precious few at-large bids remaining.