March is a mere five days away, and you know what that means. Time to focus our attention on college basketball. Several colleges in Indiana have hoop teams that are vying for a place in the NCAA Tournament, set to begin on March 16. And two schools feature teams who have serious aspirations of playing in the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium. A lot can, and will, change over the course of the next two weeks, but here’s a look at the current situation facing several teams in the state of Indiana.
RESUME: 23-3 (11-3 Big Ten) CONFERENCE RANK: 1 – NATIONAL RANK: 3 – RPI: 7
BEST WINS: #19 Tennessee (20-6), Wake Forrest (18-7), #6 West Virginia (21-6), #17 Wisconsin (20-7), #14 Michigan State (21-7), #9 Ohio State (21-7)
WORST LOSS: Northwestern (17-10)
WORK LEFT TO DO: If the season were to end today, the Purdue Boilermakers would be looking at their first #1 seed since Brad Miller, Chad Austin and Matt Ten Dam were running the court in 1996. They still have three games remaining in Big Ten play, beginning Saturday against #14 Michigan State. BUT…
Without Robbie Hummel (Valparaiso, Indiana), who tore his ACL in Wednesday’s win over Minnesota, their chances of reaching the NCAA Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium have all but evaporated. That #1 seed may be slipping from their grasps as well. If they can’t beat the Spartans in Mackey Arena this weekend – a tough task under any circumstances – they’ll likely lose out on the Big Ten title. And if they don’t dominate their way through the Big Ten Tournament, the selection committee won’t look favorably on their post-Hummel hopes, a fact that could push them as low as a #3 seed.
-Side Note: This Hummel thing is absolutely devastating, not just for the players, coaches, and fans of the Boilermakers, but to all Indianapolis basketball fans out there, regardless of school affiliation. Hummel plays the game the way it was meant to be played. He did all the subtle things that go into being the leader of such a dominant team. His unselfishness, court vision, defensive versatility, and ability to rise to the moment will be missed sorely by everyone who enjoys watching the sport of basketball. Purdue can replace his 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, but they can’t replace the little things, the attention to detail, that Hummel brought to the court every night. And unfortunately, it was those intangibles that made the Boilers such a powerhouse of a team.
JOE LUNARDI’S ESPN BRACKET PREDICTION: #1 Seed in West Regional
RESUME: 25-4 (17-0 Horizon) CONFERENCE RANK: 1 – NATIONAL RANK: 15 – RPI: 18
BEST WINS: #9 Ohio State (21-7), Xavier (19-7), Siena (22-6), Northwestern (17-10)
WORST LOSSES: University of Alabama-Birmingham (21-5), Clemson (19-7), Minnesota (16-10)
WORK LEFT TO DO: There’s not much left for Butler, who’s won 17 straight games, to prove. They travel to Valparaiso, Indiana on Friday to take on the Crusaders in their last Horizon League game. Then comes the all-important conference tournament, to which an automatic bid is awarded to the winner.
While you wouldn’t think it mandatory the Bulldogs win the conference tourney to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament — they got in last year after a second round loss to Cleveland State — it wasn’t that long ago, 2002 to be precise, that Butler finished with 26-6 record, lost in the conference tournament, and then were sent to the National Invitational Tournament by the selection committee. So count on Brad Stevens‘ squad to keep up the intensity and precise play that brought them an undefeated conference record. Depending on their postseason performance, Butler could be placed as high as a #3 seed, and as low as a #8 seed.
JOE LUNARDI’S ESPN BRACKET PREDICTION: #5 Seed in South Regional
RESUME: 17-10 (6-8 Big East Conference) CONFERENCE RANK: 9 – NATIONAL RANK: N/R – RPI: 80
BEST WINS: #6 West Virginia (21-6), Cincinnati (15-11), Pittsburgh (21-7)
WORST LOSSES: St. John’s (15-11), Seton Hall (15-10), Loyola Marymount (15-13), Rutgers (14-13)
WORK LEFT TO DO: The Fightin’ Irish had plenty of work left to do heading into Wednesday’s showdown with #12 Pittsburgh. They’d lost three games in a row, and seven of their past 10. Luckily, the Big East affords teams the chance to seriously beef up their resume nearly every game. And that played into Notre Dame’s hands Wednesday, as they toppled the Pitt Panthers 68-53. They did so without Luke Harangody, who missed his third straight game with a bruised knee. The selection committee will take that factor into account when they meet Sunday, March 14, and if the Irish can win two of their next three games (#11 Georgetown, Connecticut, Marquette), they’ll finish the season with 20 wins. A good showing in the Big East Tournament would then position them nicely to earn an invitation to NCAA tourney.
JOE LUNARDI’S ESPN BRACKET PREDICTION: OUT — if they do make it in, a seed in the 8-10 range is the best they can hope for.
RESUME: 20-9 (13-3 Summit League) CONFERENCE RANK: 2 – NATIONAL RANK: N/R – RPI: 102
BEST WIN: Oakland (22-8)
WORST LOSSES: Indiana State (16-12), Ohio University (15-13), Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (14-13)
WORK LEFT TO DO: The Jaguars have to finish up Summit League play with a game against South Dakota St, but they’ve already wrapped up a second seed, and a first round bye, in the Summit League postseason tournament. Obviously, they’ll have to win the tourney to earn a bid to the NCAA’s, and to do so they’ll have to get by the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. IUPUI was the only team to defeat Oakland in the regular season, and lost by three points in their other meeting. At the very least, the Jags will earn an invite to the NIT, but that’s not what Ron Hunter is focused on right now. His goal is to get back to big boy tournament, something IUPUI has only accomplished once in their school history.
JOE LUNARDI’S ESPN BRACKET PREDICTION: OUT — a 15 or 16 seed awaits the Jaguars if they manage to win the Summit League postseason tournament.