The Big Ten is loaded this year, and that gauntlet can take its toll on some teams. A couple of teams who entered January as serious tournament hopefuls have gone through some massive slumps, and because of the consistently tough schedules, are now in severe danger. Indiana and Nebraska lead a group of six teams who looked like they were heading for the NCAA Tournament in early January, but now have fallen on hard times.
Indiana Hoosiers (13-11)
The Indiana Hoosiers were at 12-2 on January 3rd after beating Illinois to go to 3-0 in the Big Ten. Those early wins included a destruction of Marquette and a win over Louisville, two teams in the Top 16 when the Selection Committee released their early reveal.
The young Hoosiers, though, have really struggled with consistency and shooting in conference play. They have now lost 9 of their last 10 games. Seven of those losses have come against teams that are likely to be in the NCAA Tournament field. I don’t know what’s more surprising, that they’ve lost 9 of 10 or that the only win was at Michigan State.
NCAA Prognosis: On life support. The next five games are against possible tournament teams, which represents hazard but also opportunity. The game at Minnesota this Saturday is a must-win. If they can get to 17-14 by winning more than half of the remaining games, they will be squarely in the bubble discussion, thanks to their big wins over Michigan State, Marquette, and Louisville. But that’s not an easy task because they will likely be an underdog in each of the next five games.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-11)
Nebraska’s beat Indiana over a month ago. After that game, they sat at 13-4, with quality wins at Clemson and Indiana, and against Seton Hall and Creighton. They sat at 11th in the Ken Pomeroy efficiency rankings after that Indiana win. They looked certain to be in the NCAA field, unless they collapsed.
But over the rest of January and half of February, they had seven straight losses, including losses at both Rutgers and Illinois. That finally ended Wednesday night, with a one-point home win over Minnesota when James Palmer hit two free throws with 1.1 seconds left, in what was a must-win. But the Cornhuskers are still only 4-10 in conference play.
NCAA Prognosis: The door is still open, but they must also win the next two games as well at home against Northwestern and then at Penn State. If they do that, then a split of the four-game tough closing stretch (vs. Purdue, at Michigan and Michigan State, vs. Iowa) would put them on the favorable side of the bubble. But that would require them to play much better than they have played in the last month.
Oklahoma Sooners (15-10)
Last year, the Oklahoma Sooners bolted out of the gate with Trae Young and were the talk of the nation. By mid-January they were a Top 10 team, but then limped through the rest of the Big 12 schedule and got into the tournament despite a 18-13 record and a six-game losing streak in February.
This year’s squad is trying its best to duplicate that feat, without Young. They went 11-1 in 2018, and were still 13-3 on January 12th. They’ve now lost five straight Big 12 games, sit at 3-9 in conference, with two of those wins coming against Oklahoma State. The last win was against the worst team in the SEC, Vanderbilt.
NCAA Prognosis: KenPom has them again projected at 18-13 to finish the regular season. But I’m not sure that’s good enough this year. What they don’t have is the really big win to differentiate at the bubble. Their best win, by opponent NET rating, is at home against Wofford. They probably need to close at least 3-3 AND get a win either at home against Kansas, or at Iowa State or Kansas State.