BLOOMINGTON – Indiana’s bumpy season took a final nosedive Sunday when not even the NIT could find room for the Hoosiers.
Coach Tom Crean confirmed shortly after that disappointment that the Hoosiers (17-15) will not play in a postseason tournament.
Crean had expressed a desire for his young team to get some form of postseason experience after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons.
Our determination and confidence was high, Crean wrote on Twitter. Our desire to improve has been strong. We would have loved to be able to keep playing.
But the 32-team NIT had 13 spots filled by automatic qualifiers: teams that finished first in their conference in the regular season but lost in the league tournament.
It limited our open at-large berths to 19, said Carroll Williams, acting chairman of the NIT selection committee. It’s something we took on in 2006. We feel very good about accepting these teams. It does shrink the at-large field.
Despite an RPI rank of 97, the Hoosiers were considered.
Sometimes we don’t go as much on RPI as we do our eyeball, Williams said. There were a number of good teams. We had a lot of good arguments. Indiana, Maryland, Richmond, Ohio, Marquette – a very nice at-large field. It made for great committee meetings.
Indiana’s four NIT appearances were in 1972, 1979, 1985 and 2005. The Hoosiers won the title in 1979 and finished as runners-up in 1985.
While an NIT bid might not carry the prestige it used to, Indiana badly wanted one.
The Hoosiers were not nearly as interested in their last resort: the College Basketball Invitational, a 16-team tournament entering its seventh year.
So it’s curtains for a dispiriting transitional season.
Senior Will Sheehey moves on. Noah Vonleh, highly thought of by NBA talent evaluators, could be a rare one-and-done at Indiana.
Without those two, it’s hard to see how the Hoosiers can improve much.
Leading scorer Yogi Ferrell is due back for his junior year, and Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson and Devin Davis should improve as sophomores.
But Indiana has a gaping hole in the middle if Vonleh leaves school early. Crean will need to scour the nation for a junior college transfer or a fifth-year graduate student.
Aside from Vonleh, size is lacking. Hanner Mosquera-Perea is too limited offensively to play extended minutes, and Davis is 6-foot-7. Luke Fischer, Indiana’s one-time center of the future, transferred to Marquette.
At least one problem area will be addressed. Incoming recruits James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson and Max Hoetzel add outside shooting.
The Hoosiers started 10-3 but faded when the competition toughened in Big Ten play. Indiana went 14-4 at Assembly Hall but just 3-11 in all other venues.
We brought it some games, sometimes we didn’t, Ferrell said. We wanted to win a national championship. We’ll get a couple more shooters next year. If Noah comes back, we can make a run.