Indiana's fifth loss in six games has its NCAA tournament hopes flickering

Jeff Eisenberg

Sixteen minutes into an already tough first half for his team, Indiana coach Tom Crean’s day somehow got even worse.

Michigan’s Mo Wagner turned to run down court after hitting a 3-pointer and accidentally plowed into Crean, sending him tumbling to the floor.

The play was the perfect metaphor for the damage Michigan inflicted on Indiana with its 75-63 road win in Bloomington on Sunday afternoon. The outcome makes it very difficult to envision the Hoosiers picking themselves off the ground and climbing back into NCAA tournament contention this season.

At 15-11 overall and 5-8 in the Big Ten, Indiana almost certainly wouldn’t be NCAA tournament-bound were the field selected today. The Hoosiers boast a pair of massive non-league victories over Kansas and North Carolina, but they’ve lost to every other KenPom top 50 opponent they’ve faced.

Four of Indiana’s five remaining games are on the road, where they’re only 1-5 this season. (AP)
Four of Indiana’s five remaining games are on the road, where they’re only 1-5 this season. (AP)

The bubble is weak enough that obituaries for Indiana’s season are premature, but the Hoosiers’ remaining schedule is less than ideal to say the least. Four of Indiana’s five remaining regular season games are on the road, where the Hoosiers are 1-5 so far this season. They visit Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue and Ohio State with a home game against Northwestern sandwiched in the middle.

It’s unclear how many of those games Indiana would have to win to earn one of the final at-large bids, but getting to .500 in Big Ten play could be a must. After all, the selection committee already made it clear it’s unimpressed with the Big Ten on Saturday when it did not include a single team from the league in its in-season top 16.

Given that O.G. Anunoby is lost for the season and James Blackmon is still hobbled by a lower leg injury, it’s tough to envision the Hoosiers rallying down the stretch. They’ve lost five of their last six games with the only victory coming in triple OT at home against Penn State.

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Sunday’s loss might have been Indiana’s worst considering that Michigan is a fringe NCAA tournament contender that was previously winless on the road. The Wolverines had lost 17 of their previous 18 games in Bloomington, yet they led from start to finish against these Hoosiers.

Turnovers and poor defense were Indiana’s undoing just as they’ve been so frequently this season.

The Hoosiers turned the ball over 31.8 percent of their first-half possessions en route to a 10-point halftime deficit, a hole from which they never fully recovered. Derrick Walton scored 25 points, D.J. Wilson added 15 and Wagner had 11 points and 10 rebounds as the Wolverines scored efficiently enough to thwart every Indiana second-half rally.

Indiana’s nightmarish recent play has reignited calls for Crean’s firing at the end of the season.

It was only a year ago that Crean won over many of his critics by helping Indiana win the Big Ten title, oust Kentucky from the NCAA tournament and reach its second Sweet 16 in four years. Now losses are piling up fast, fans aren’t showing up to games and the Hoosiers’ NCAA tournament hopes are again flickering.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!