CHICAGO -- The good news for Indiana is that there's nothing that states a team must win its conference tournament before winning a national championship. There are plenty of examples of schools that didn't, most recently last season's Kentucky Wildcats.
But it helps.
Or, at least, history suggests it happens more often than not.
That's what I learned during a short research project courtside here at the United Center on Saturday as the final seconds of Indiana's 68-56 loss to Wisconsin ticked away, that 10 of the past 15 national champions were conference tournament champions before cutting nets in April. That means you would've ended up right more often than not if you'd merely spent the past 15 Selection Sundays claiming one of the six power-conference tournament champs would win the national championship, too.
Here are the details:
- 1998: Kentucky won the SEC tournament.
- 1999: Connecticut won the Big East tournament.
- 2000: Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament.
- 2001: Duke won the ACC tournament.
- 2002: Maryland lost in the ACC semfinals.
- 2003: Syracuse lost in the Big East semifinals.
- 2004: Connecticut won the Big East tournament.
- 2005: North Carolina lost in the ACC semifinals.
- 2006: Florida won the SEC tournament.
- 2007: Florida won the SEC tournament.
- 2008: Kansas won the Big 12 tournament.
- 2009: North Carolina lost in the ACC semifinals.
- 2010: Duke won the ACC tournament.
- 2011: Connecticut won the Big East tournament.
- 2012: Kentucky lost in the SEC final.
So what does this all mean?
Honestly, nothing more than exactly what it means -- that history is not on Indiana's side. Trying to make it into anything more would be unwise, particularly after watching UK run through the Field of 68 last year. But in a season full of stated goals, this is one that Indiana didn't accomplish, and it might've cost the Hoosiers the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, which means they might not get to play Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games just 53 miles from campus. That would be disappointing -- for the team and the fans.
But it wouldn't be a killer.
And neither will this loss to Wisconsin.
Yes, it suggests Bo Ryan is Tom Crean's worst nightmare considering the Wisconsin coach has now topped Indiana 12 consecutive times. But it's unlikely that the Hoosiers will have to face the Badgers again during an attempt to win the national title. So the important question is whether Indiana is playing well enough in general to earn a championship despite this 12th straight loss to Wisconsin that everybody just witnessed.
"That's an awfully tough question when you get beat today like this," Crean said. "If you would've asked me the question yesterday, I probably would've had a different answer. But we didn't play as well today. So it's just a matter of going and looking at the film, making the corrections we need to make and moving forward."
And with that, the Hoosiers headed home, the nation's preseason No. 1 team and outright Big Ten regular-season champions now losers of three of their past six games. They are reduced to watching Sunday's Big Ten final on television. That's disappointing. But the extra day of rest might be a positive in the long run. Either way, they'll get back at it soon enough and start trying to ensure Saturday's loss ultimately represents their final loss even if the past 15 seasons suggest it probably won't.
"Obviously we wanted to get this win today," said Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller. "But we'll learn from it, figure out what we did wrong, make the corrections and get ready for next week. Because that's when it's most important."