On December 2, in front of a national audience on ESPN, IU was embarrassed by Duke, losing 94-74 at Cameron as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. That loss left the Hoosiers with a 5-3 record, and even the most ardent Tom Crean supporters were wavering. Since then, the "fire Crean" contingent has been quieted significantly, as the Hoosiers -- without their second-leading scorer James Blackmon, Jr., who is out for the season -- have won 13 of 14 and are off to an 8-1 start through the first half of the Big Ten season. Their only hiccup in that stretch was last Tuesday's overtime loss to Wisconsin in Madison where, predictably, the Badgers committed 14 fewer fouls and attempted 19 more free throws than the Hoosiers did. Regardless, IU is #22 in the AP poll and #21 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, and the Hoosiers are sitting tied atop the Big Ten standings with Iowa.
Their defense is vastly improved, and they continue to shoot well from three-point range (aside from a 2-18 aberration this past Saturday in a win over Minnesota). The team has rallied since Blackmon's injury, and if you would have told me in December that we would be 8-1 halfway through the Big Ten slate, I would have been overjoyed.
I'm excited, but I'm also cautiously optimistic because I know IU has a tough road ahead. IU's schedule is backloaded, with five games against ranked teams -- at home against Iowa, Purdue, and Maryland, and on the road at Iowa and Michigan State –- in their last seven. And tonight at 9 Eastern on ESPN, the Hoosiers play a tough Michigan team (17-5 overall, 7-2 in the Big Ten) on the road in a pivotal game. A win would be a huge road win over an NCAA Tournament team and would keep the Hoosiers on top of the Big Ten standings. A loss would drop the Hoosiers to two losses in the Big Ten, along with Michigan and Maryland.
The Big Ten Tournament will be Wednesday March 9 through Sunday March 13 in Indianapolis. Here are the top ten most likely Big Ten Tournament seeds that I think the Hoosiers will have.
10. 10th seed
For this to happen, IU would basically have to lose the rest of its games, and some other teams near the bottom of the standings would have to pull off some upsets. In the last five seasons, no team that has finished 8-10 in the Big Ten has had worse than a 9-seed in the Big Ten Tournament. So, if IU goes 8-10 and gets the 10-seed, you can assume that Tom Crean will not survive the off-season, minus a miraculous run in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can also assume that I will be mentally and emotionally ruined, forever.
9. 9th seed
This one is also highly unlikely, as it would likely mean that IU would have to lose the rest of its games.
8. 8th seed
This one is also highly unlikely, as it would likely mean that IU would have to lose the rest of its games or maybe win one more game. Over the past five seasons, the worst seed a team with a 9-9 record has gotten has been the 8-seed.
7. 7th seed
I also don't see this one happening either. In the last five years, the 7-seed has had either a 9-9 or an 8-10 conference record. Again, that would mean that IU would have to win no more than one game over its last nine.
6. 6th seed
Given the strength of the teams in the top half of the Big Ten, a 6-seed is not out of the question if IU manages to shit the bed in the second half of the season to end up at 11-7 –- a record that got Ohio State the 6-seed in last year's Big Ten Tournament, which was the first tournament since the Big Ten expanded to 14 teams. In the prior four years, an 11-7 record would have given a team between the 4-seed and 6-seed. However, with how top-heavy the Big Ten is this year, even a 12-6 record could mean a 6-seed, based on tiebreakers, if a few teams end up at 12-6.
5. 5th seed
A 5-seed would be a disappointment, unless there was a five-way tie for the Big Ten regular season title and IU just happened to get the 5-seed via seeding tiebreakers.
4. 1st seed
The Hoosiers control their own destiny. If they win out, they will win the Big Ten by at least a two-game margin. Of course, they don't have to win out to get the 1-seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Realistically speaking, with the teams remaining on their schedule, it will be tough for them to grab the top spot. But hear this: when they're hitting shots, there isn't a team in the country that can keep up. I think they would have to finish no worse than 15-3, beating Iowa at least once. If they get the 1-seed, I think you have to give Crean the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
3. 4th seed
Any one of the top four seeds would be huge because it would mean a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament to the quarterfinals. It seems like IU manages to end up with the 4-seed or 5-seed most years (well, in 6 out of the 18 Big Ten Tournaments, anyway). This year, I think a 4-seed probably either means the Hoosiers have gotten in a four-way tie for the Big Ten title or ended up in a multiple-team tie for second or third. With a record between 12-6 or 14-4, I think IU could still end up with the 4-seed, depending on how other teams fare.
2. 3rd seed
A 3-seed is likely because it could happen either because IU ended up in a 3-way tie for the regular season title, tied for second, or tied for third. Any scenario is a pretty good one for the Hoosiers, and I think a 13-5 or 12-6 record –- which would mean IU would have to go 5-4 or 4-5 over its last 9 games -- is probably good enough to clinch a 3-seed. For historical comparison, since the Big Ten went back to an 18-game schedule in the 2007-2008 season, a 12-6 regular season record would have garnered a 2- to 5-seed (2-seed twice, 3-seed twice, 4-seed six times, and 5-seed three times), and a 13-5 record would have garnered a 1- to 4-seed (1-seed once, 2-seed four times, 3-seed four times, and 4-seed twice).
1. 2nd seedRealistically, I think the Hoosiers will probably get the 2-seed. I envision them splitting their remaining 6 games against the top half teams (Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, MSU, and Purdue) and winning the other three games, which would put their regular season record at 14-4. That might mean that they tie for the Big Ten regular season title, but lose out on the 1-seed because of the seeding tiebreaking system, or that they simply finish second, since Iowa has a relatively easy schedule from here on out (and is unlikely to lose three more games). Since the Big Ten went back to an 18-game schedule in the 2007-2008 season, a 14-4 record would have gotten a team a 1-seed three times, a 2-seed five times, and a 3-seed twice.