After a disappointing loss to Northwestern, Indiana's NCAA tournament hopes took a big hit. The Hoosiers, 12-6 (2-3), need to string together a series of victories in order to get back on track.
But, the Big Ten conference is a double-edged sword. Yes, it offers tough competition that, with victories, can improve the Hoosiers' tournament resume, but, at the same time, IU's upcoming schedule is no picnic.
Every remaining game for the Hoosiers is important, but let's take a look at the biggest left. The games were picked based on how they can help Indiana turn its season around and improve its NCAA tournament chances the most.
Illnois already knocked off Indiana once this season.
When the Hoosiers take on the Illini in late January, it will be IU's first home game since its puzzling home loss to the Wildcats of Northwestern. Illinois isn't one of the B1G's top teams, but this game is important because the Hoosiers must use it reestablish their home-court dominance.
As Indiana showed earlier this season in its stunning upset win against Wisconsin, Assembly Hall can be one of the toughest places in the country for opposing teams to visit. During the Northwestern game, the crowd never seemed to be into it, and one of Indiana's biggest advantages wasn't working in its favor.
The Illini present the perfect opportunity for Indiana to regain its footing at home—and it needs to with the teams still having to make the trip to Bloomington. Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State will play the Hoosiers on IU's home court, and IU must have its confidence back if it is to stand any chance against those three teams.
Beating Illinois when it walks through the doors of Assembly Hall would certainly help Indiana regain its home-court swagger.
Purdue will be a tough test for the Hoosiers.
The contest against the Boilermakers makes the list because of the IU-Purdue rivalry and it's a road game where a Hoosier win would earn them some respect from the tournament selection committee.
Is Purdue one of the conference's top teams? No. But, in all likelihood, Purdue will be .500 in the Big Ten, and any time you can beat a quality team—let alone your rival—in their building, it's a solid win.
No doubt, this will be a test for Indiana. The Hoosiers have dominated this rivalry as of late (winning the last four meetings), so the atmosphere inside Mackey Arena should be even more electric than usual.
Indiana needs some quality road wins in order to make the NCAA tournament, and this game against the gold and black represents a golden opportunity for the Hoosiers to improve their tournament standing.
The Hawkeyes are taking no prisoners in Big Ten play.
Assuming Iowa keeps up its winning ways, when the Hawkeyes visit Assembly Hall, they will still be near the top of the conference standings (currently third at 4-1) and ranked in the Top 25. Another win against a ranked opponent is just what Indiana needs.
This is a big game because if Iowa is still going steady, a win for the Hoosiers would look very strong. Combine that with the Wisconsin victory and the Hoosiers will have knocked off two very good teams.
Indiana definitely needs one, possibly two, more signature wins to have any shot at the NCAA tournament. The Hawkeyes in Bloomington give the Hoosiers the chance to pick up that type of victory.
The Hoosiers will need a win against Michigan.
Much like a season ago, a lot could be riding on the Hoosiers' last game of the season. In 2012-13, Indiana fought off Michigan for a Big Ten title. When they meet in Ann Arbor again, Indiana could be fighting for its NCAA tournament life.
Most likely, by this point in the year, the Hoosiers will be on the tournament bubble. The outcome of this game could send Indiana to the Big Dance or to the NIT.
Despite losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., the Wolverines haven't lost a step. They are undefeated in conference play and have their sights set on raising a conference championship banner.
If the Hoosiers want to improve their NCAA tournament resume, then this is a game they must win. Defeating one of the conference's top teams (assuming the Wolverines are still there by this point) on their home floor would be a major boost to Indiana's credentials.