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Thursday, Feb. 29
The Indiana Daily Student


Leader of the pack

Back in conference play, IU set for Big Ten title run

The pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fall into place. The stars are aligned at just the right time. And so on.\nIn other words, as the second week of February in the Big Ten begins, the No. 22 Hoosiers are in first place, by themselves, and in control of their future.\nThat future becomes the present starting tonight. After fighting past Louisville Saturday, IU begins its final six games of the regular season tonight when it faces Wisconsin at Assembly Hall at 8 p.m.\nThere will be no more out of conference games, and the Hoosiers (16-7, 8-2) wouldn't want it any other way. They appear ready to make one final run at what Mike Davis has been talking about since the first week of January: a Big Ten Championship.\n"I don't know that we can play it any better than we are," Davis said. "If you peak, it better be at a level where you can maintain. Where we are is very good as a basketball team.\n"We've maxed it out."\nAfter surviving a rugged game with the Cardinals Saturday at Assembly Hall, IU got a big favor from Michigan State when the Spartans knocked off Ohio State at the Breslin Center Sunday afternoon, leaving the Hoosiers in first place in the Big Ten by themselves.\nThe play of IU has not gone unnoticed. The Hoosiers have ascended into both polls, and Jarrad Odle became the third IU player to be named Big Ten Player of the Week this season. Suddenly, the Hoosiers are the favorites to win the conference.\nBo Ryan knows it and the Wisconsin (14-11, 7-5) coach doesn't know where to begin when trying to defend the inside-out game that IU possesses.\n"Pick your poison. When they're clicking, the outside can come and go, the inside stays fairly steady," Ryan said. "All you can do is disrupt the rhythm. They're good on the offense."\nIt might be hard for the Badgers to slow down the Hoosiers' offense, considering that Wisconsin is giving up nearly 66 points per game, up from the 56 the Badgers were allowing per game last year.\nBeyond IU's strong offensive production through shooting, Ryan also worries about the Hoosiers' defense. Wisconsin is scoring more than it has in the past, but that could suffer against Davis' aggressive man-to-man defense.\n"We try to get into you and play you as hard as we can. Every shot you take, we make sure we contest it high and hard," Davis said. "We want to block out and limit you to one shot.\n"We have Jeff Newton and Jared Jeffries who can match up with anyone in the country when it comes to inside-out. That hurts a lot of teams." \nThat is what Ryan is worried about more so than Kyle Hornsby, Dane Fife and Tom Coverdale hitting from the outside. With Newton, Odle and Jeffries down low, the Hoosiers have been getting numerous second chances in the last few games.\n"The other part is when they shoot from the perimeter and they get the rebound," Ryan said. "Jeffries, Newton and Odle, they're so active on the offensive boards, they can turn a missed three into a three-point play."\nJeffries has been battling a contusion on his upper right leg for the past week, but should play. Davis said even if Jeffries is limited in what he can do, the Hoosiers have enough firepower to make up for his absence.\n"We never put limits on our guys. When they focus on Jeffries, that's when Newton and Odle have had more opportunities," Davis said.\nTonight marks the conclusion of a three-game home stand for the Hoosiers. After a visit to Michigan this weekend, IU has a showdown with Ohio State at home before road games at Michigan State and No. 14 Illinois.\nWhile the Badgers battle to get a decent shot at a spot in the NCAA Tournament, IU has a different agenda. There's no better time than tonight to start a final push toward the Hoosiers' first conference title since 1993.\n"We're right where we want to be," Odle said.

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