The Indiana Hooisers have fallen on hard times as a basketball program recently, but they have a chance tonight to burst the bubble of one of the teams that may be teetering on the edge of an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Hoosiers, the lowest-seeded team in the Big Ten Tournament, will conclude the first night of the tournament by taking on the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State is on the edge of the bubble at this point, and would likely have to win at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament to get serious consideration for an NCAA Tournament spot.
Over at the Crimson Quarry, the Hoosier fans know the odds are pretty much stacked against them.
The odds are against the Hoosiers tonight, according to Vegas, Pomeroy, and Big Ten Tournament history. In the thirteen previous tournaments, only Illinois in 1999 has won a game as the #11 seed. As IU fans may recall, the Illini followed their win over #6 Minnesota with a beatdown of #3 IU and an upset of #2 Ohio State before losing to #1 Michigan State in the final. If there is any hope, it is that IU should have something of a crowd advantage over Penn State, the most distant Big Ten school and the school with the least interested basketball fan base. Penn State, while certainly better than IU in this category, has not been a terribly good road team this season. Until late February, Penn State's only win away from the Bryce Jordan Center was the aforementioned win at IU. The Lions finished strong on the road, however, winning at Northwestern and Minnesota in their final two road games. A win tonight at least would spare the 2010-11 Hoosiers the current distinction as the only team in IU history without a win away from Bloomington. Meanwhile, Penn State could play its way into the NCAA Tournament with a strong run at Indy, but as in 2009, when Penn State won the NIT, Penn State's non-conference schedule and performance may put the Lions on the wrong side of the line. I think it's fair to say that a loss to IU would burst the bubble.
The Nittany Lion fans over at Black Shoe Diaries know what's at stake as well.
Without looking too far ahead, it's important to point out that today is about more than Penn State vs. Indiana. Bubble teams everywhere will be starting conference tournament play, and the Lions would love to see as many of them drop as possible. Click here to see the bubble slate for the day. If Penn State can see any of Boston College, Memphis, Tennessee, USC, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Michigan State or Washington State fall, it'll be a productive day for their at-large hopes. Ultimately, Penn State can't be eliminated today if it wins, but its road could get either tougher or easier depending upon what happens across America.
Tip-off for this one is scheduled for 6:30 PM Central time on the Big Ten Network.