In 49 other states it is just basketball… but this is Indiana.
I love that phrase. It perfectly sums up the passion for the game here. High school basketball has long been king here, but in the college game you have four major programs and some solid mid-majors. It is more shocking when a team from Indiana DOESN’T make the tournament than when one does. In 2014 the state suffered great shame when no teams made the NCAA tournament. That was the first time since 2005 that had happened, but before that you have to go back to 1973 when only 25 made the NCAAs and programs such as Valparaiso, IPFW, and IUPUI either weren’t playing at the Division I level or didn’t even exist. this state puts teams into the NCAAs and they often hang around quite a while.
After the shame of three seasons ago the 2017 tournament could be a heavily Indiana affair. In 2000 the state of Indiana put six of its 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament (Indiana, Purdue, Indiana State, Butler, Ball State, and Valparaiso). As of right now, four teams are a lock. A few others look like strong candidates to win their respective conference tournaments and get in. Can we get 7?
Indiana – The Hoosiers already have two wins over top 3 teams and have only one loss that really doesn’t look that bad in Ft. Wayne. They are likely the Big Ten favorite at the moment and barring an absolute collapse they will make the Tournament. In fact, they are on the Final Four short list right now.
Purdue – The Boilers are 7-2 and have lost their two toughest games, but there has been nothing to suggest they won’t win about 25 games and easily make the tournament. Their ceiling is a Big Ten title and a higher seed depending on how they do within the conference.
Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish are undefeated and have cracked the top 25 this week. They play Villanova this weekend and Purdue next in two huge non-conference games on neutral floors. They also have major conference wins over Iowa, Northwestern, and Colorado, plus a nice non-conference wins over Fort Wayne.
Butler – Don’t look too much much into last night’s one point loss at Indiana State, the Bulldogs are a very good team. They already have non-conference wins over Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Arizona, and at Utah. The next two Saturdays they get Cincinnati and Indiana, too. Their KenPom numbers are in the top 20 and all four of the Crossroads Classic teams are both in the top 25 of the polls and in KenPom.
Conference title favorites:
Fort Wayne – The Mastodons already have that monumental win over Indiana in their back pocket. That was part of a six game winning streak that was snapped at Notre Dame earlier this week. Their RPI is only 79 and they have losses to Arkansas and Illinois State, so an at large berth seems likely, but this is the top rated team in The Summit League, so they would likely be the favorite in the league tournament. They have never made the NCAAs, but came close a few years ago. In 2014 they almost kept the state alive in the NCAAs, but fell 60-57 in the Summit title game to North Dakota State on a 3-point play with 12 seconds left. They can get it done this year.
Valparaiso – The Crusaders went to the NCAAs in 2013 and 2015 and were probably robbed a bit last year. They were 24-6, had a 6 point loss at Oregon, beat Oregon State in Corvallis, and easily won their conference but dropped the title game 99-92. Despite having an RPI of 31 and KenPom of 42 they were left out of the NCAA field. What followed was a run to the NIT title game before losing to George Washington. They are still a very good team at 7-2 with losses to Kentucky and Oregon, both on the road. They currently boast an RPI of 50 and a KenPom of 80. No one else in their conference is above 150.
Conference Tournament Contenders:
Indiana State – The Sycamores finally got their big win last night, but they have been close a few times this year. They went 0-3 in the Advocare Invitational down in Orlando, but lost all three games to Iowa State, Stanford, and Quinipiac by a total of eight points. They had both Stanford and Iowa State on the ropes before fading late. They are good enough to get hot in St. Louis and win the automatic bid.
Ball State – The Cardinals have not been to the NCAAs since 2000, but their memorable 2001-02 season had those early upsets out in Maui of UCLA and Kansas. After hovering around .500 the last two seasons they have done pretty well this year. They are 5-4 with losses to Alabama, Valparaiso, Indiana State, and IUPUI. With basketball MACtion, however, anyone can win the conference title. Tayler Persons has started very strong for them and could get them through the MAC Tournament.
Evansville – Last year was their year and they came up just short in the MVC final. Now DJ Balentine is gone and the Aces are only 4-4. They are going to need a strong run in the MVC tourney, which doesn’t seem likely.
IUPUI – The Jaguars have played Michigan and Illinois well, but losing to SIU-Edwardsville is not good. They are only 3-6 on the young season but have played all but two games on the road. They also share a conference with Fort Wayne, and only one team is getting in from there.
If Philly can have the Big 5 why can’t we have the Indiana 10? Would it necessarily be a bad thing to have a championship awarded where everybody in the state plays everyone else at least once? Indiana-Purdue, Evansville-Indiana State, and Fort Wayne-IUPUI already meet in conference play, so you designate one of those games each year as an “Indiana 10” game. The hardest part is getting Indiana and Purdue to agree to play BOTH Butler and Notre Dame each season.
Another solution is to expand the Crossroads to eight teams and make it a tournament. The two lowest rated teams from the previous year would be excluded and the top eight battle for state supremacy. Oh, and the first round is on campus and seeded based on the previous year’s final KenPom ratings. Here is how your hypothetical 2016 tournament based on the final 2016 KenPom numbers:
1 Seed Purdue (9) hosting 8 Seed Ball State (155)
2 Seed Indiana (11) hosting 7 Seed IPFW (135)
3 Seed Butler (30) hosting 6 Seed Evansville (72)
4 Seed Notre Dame (37) hosting 5 Seed Valparaiso (42)
Want to have even more fun? Exempt Tournaments are allowed to have up to 16 teams and count as just one game in the standings. There is a nearby state that also loves basketball and regularly puts its premier programs and multiple mid-majors into the NCAAs. That’s right. Let’s merge the 10 Indiana schools and 7 Kentucky schools, drop the lowest rated KenPom team from the previous season, and have a 16-team mega tournament involving Indiana, Purdue, Butler, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Kentucky.
Seriously. How fun would that be? Six big-time college basketball programs. High quality mid-majors in Valparaiso, Western Kentucky, Murray State, and Indiana State. Feisty upstarts like Fort Wayne and Morehead State. It will never happen, but we can dream.
For shits and giggles, I will leave you with the hypothetical 16 team Indiana-Kentucky tournament for this year based on last year’s final KenPom rankings:
- Kentucky (6) vs. 16. IUPUI (207)
- Louisville (7) vs. 15. Eastern Kentucky (201)
- Purdue (9) vs. 14. Western Kentucky (170)
- Indiana (11) vs. 13. Indiana State (168)
- Butler (30) vs. 12. Murray State (162)
- Notre Dame (37) vs. 11. Ball State (155)
- Valparaiso (42) vs. 10. IPFW (135)
- Evansville (72) vs. 9. Morehead State (126)