It’s been yet another exciting week in O26 basketball. Let’s check out this week’s most compelling storylines.
Are Indiana State’s NCAA Tournament hopes over?
The discussion surrounding the Sycamores’ at-large chances largely pointed toward one game. Could Indiana State take down undefeated Wichita State at home on February 5? A win and suddenly the Sycamores are in the bubble discussion. A loss and almost all hope is lost. That was the date everybody had circled on the calendar. And then Indiana State (16-5, 7-2 Missouri Valley Conference) went and lost to Southern Illinois on Wednesday, effectively ending any at-large hopes. Its RPI sits at #45 as of Friday and is sure to plummet now. The Sycamores’ case was precarious at best before the loss, with what looked like a resume-building win over Notre Dame in mid-November no longer carrying any cache. The Fighting Irish’s freefall has erased any shot at that as a quality win. The only other win against a potential NCAA Tournament team came in late December against Belmont, an Ohio Valley Conference squad that will need an automatic bid to make the Big Dance. It’s not even clear that a home win against Wichita State will be enough. It appears to be the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid or bust for Indiana State now.
What the heck is going on with Massachusetts?
The Minutemen were America’s first half darlings, sitting at 16-1 with wins over New Mexico, BYU, LSU and Providence. Now Massachusetts has lost two of its last three games, falling on the road to Richmond and Saint Bonaventure. UMass had been skating on thin ice before this recent stretch, beating Miami (Ohio), Saint Joseph’s, Saint Bonaventure and George Mason by only single digits. The latter required a miracle final minute to pull out a victory. Now it’s finally caught up with them. UMass is still a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament with a strong RPI at #8, although that will surely drop when the next rankings are released Monday. After being tabbed the Atlantic 10 favorite entering conference play, the Minutemen now have to be considered third in the league’s pecking order behind Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth. The struggles start with Chaz Willams, a frontrunner for A-10 Player of the Year. In those two recent losses, the senior guard is just 5-of-21 from the field with 19 points. He averages 15.7 points per game. Big man Cady Lalanne, who averages 13.5 PPG himself, has just 21 points in those two defeats. The Minutemen need their two stars to return to form in order for Massachusetts to make any noise in the NCAA Tournament.