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Hoosiers Bubble is bursting


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It was meant to be something of a joke. But the words spoken by Indiana coach Mike Davis were certainly accurate.


When Davis called into the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference, he heard that Ohio State's Velimir Radinovic had been named conference player of the week after lighting up the Hoosiers for a career-high 23 points.


"Seems like whoever we play, they're the Big Ten player of the week," Davis said.


Two years ago, Indiana was about to begin a postseason journey that would end with a Final Four appearance and a loss to Maryland in the national championship game. Davis was lauded by Indiana fans for keeping the program going without Bob Knight. And it seemed as if the Hoosiers would simply build on that weekend in Atlanta.


But as the Hoosiers enter Wednesday's game at Northwestern, Indiana is an extremely unusual position. Instead of playing for a seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers are in need of a big run just to get into the Dance.


With three games to play in the regular season, Indiana is 12-12 overall and 6-7 in conference play. Eighth in the Big Ten standings, the Hoosiers will likely have to play a first-round game in the conference tournament for the second consecutive season. And most importantly, Indiana is on the verge of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985.


With an InsideRPI of 86 entering Wednesday, the Hoosiers -- who lost home games last week to conference bottom feeders Minnesota and Penn State -- might have to advance to the championship game of the Big Ten tournament to have a chance to get into the NCAA tournament. But even that's not a given. If Indiana really wants to advance, the Hoosiers probably need to win the tournament and the automatic bid that's up for grabs at Conseco Fieldhouse.


And if that happens, two of the main reasons will be the inability to defend inside and losses at Assembly Hall.


Even from the beginning of this season, interior defense and depth was a concern for the Hoosiers. After all, at 6-foot-2 A.J. Moye might be Division I's smallest power forward. When Sean Kline was lost for the season to a knee injury, it became a crisis. Davis is now left with foul prone starter George Leach and a pair of uber-foul prone and inexperienced reserves -- Pat Ewing and Mike Roberts.



In a season full of losses, Indiana lost Sean Kline for the season last week ... a loss its already thin frontline couldn't afford.


In the first game after Kline's injury, Minnesota forward Kris Humphries set a school freshman record with 36 points. Then Radinoivic followed with his 23 points. Earlier this season, Penn State's Aaron Johnson scored 28 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and Paul Davis of Michigan State finished with 32 points.


But even with the deficiencies inside, the Hoosiers should have a better record. And they would if not for an extremely inexplicable ability to finish games -- especially home games.


Of Indiana's 13 conference games, the Hoosiers have been in 11 of them in the final minutes. But either the Hoosiers can't make a comeback, they can't hold the lead or they do just enough to hold on to win.


"We don't have the one guy to step up and say, 'We're not going to lose this way,'" Davis said. "We've been in every single conference game except the Wisconsin game and Purdue game on the road. We've been in position to win every game with the exception of two."


That was certainly the case in both of last week's losses. Against Minnesota, the Hoosiers led by seven points with three minutes to play and by six with less than a minute left. But a late Bracey Wright turnover, poor execution on offense and a stupid Leach foul all contributed to Minnesota winning its first road game of the season.


Against the Buckeyes, the game was tied with 20 seconds to play, but J.J. Sullinger drove to the basket with 16.7 seconds to play to give Ohio State the lead. Then Moye missed an open 3-pointer.


Simply put, the Hoosiers have not made an abundance of what would be considered smart plays in the final minutes of games.


"The worst that can happen against Minnesota is overtime and we take a quick shot and foul," Davis said. "The other night, Ohio State ... We couldn't have been in a better situation and we couldn't have gotten a better shot.


"I think it definitely has to be mental. For you not to be able to finish them off is all about someone stepping up and making plays."


This Indiana team -- unlike most teams in college basketball -- has problems playing at home. The Hoosiers look tentative at times at home, as if there's too much pressure.


"We've lost a total of six home games, including one to Temple and Missouri and the four home (Big Ten) games," Davis said. "They all have come down to plays at the wire and we haven't made any. There's no fear factor any more it seems to me."


The losses to the Gophers and the Buckeyes -- teams that are a combined 6-19 in league play -- extended IU's home losing streak to four games. For the season, the Hoosiers have lost six games at Assembly Hall.


Wright in particular has been a different player on the road than at home. Wright, the Big Ten's second leading scorer, is shooting 41.7 percent and averaging 19.7 points per game on the road. But after a 1-for-12 shooting performance against the Buckeyes, Wright is shooting only 29.9 percent and averaging 13.8 points per game at Assembly Hall.


"After the third possession the other night, I said, 'Bracey, don't be afraid to shoot the basketball.' You could see he was hesitant on a couple of shots," Davis said. "On the road he's aggressive. He was 1-12 on Saturday and I can guarantee of the 11 shots he missed, 10 were wide-open shots, it wasn't like they were contested shots. I just think he feels it. Any time your best player on your team is feeling that way at home, you're going to have problems winning at home.


"I feel really bad for Bracey right now. He shouldn't have to experience that, he just needs some love."


Even with the recent struggles and the reality of both Indiana's record and RPI, Wright is confident that the Hoosiers are going to be OK.


"There's no doubt in my mind that I think we're going to make the NCAA tournament," Wright told The Indianapolis Star after the loss to the Buckeyes.


"I wouldn't even want to play in the NIT. If it came down to it, and they invited us, I wouldn't want to play. I only want to play in the NCAA Tournament ... And when they have the selection show, I believe in my mind and in my heart that they're going to call our name out."


If that's going to happen, the Hoosiers better go on a run.

maybe if this jabroni could hit a clutch shot or two we wouldnt be in the predicament for the 1st time in 20+ years

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Well, clearly, Bracey Wright is delusional. And the fact he wouldn't want to play in the NIT if that's where they end up tells me all I need to know about him. I mean, yeah, I'm sure he wants to make the dance, but come on.


Meanwhile, Ohio State needs a win in Minneapolis tonight or their bubble might burst.



NIT Bubble.

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