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Regular season in past, IU starts fresh at Big Ten Tournament


Freshman forward Christian Watford takes a shot during IU's 88-80 win against Northwestern March 6 at Assembly Hall. Peter Stevenson

Twenty losses: see ya. A 4-14 conference record and 1-11 finish to the regular season: gone. An eight-point Saturday victory against today’s opponent: You can probably forget about that as well.

IU’s body of work over the last nine weeks secured them the No. 10 seed in an 11-team conference tournament. It wasn’t a pretty season and certainly IU is not expected to make many waves up the road in Indianapolis.

But a 30-game season ended last weekend and a new one begins today for the Hoosiers.

The Big Ten Tournament bracket has the Hoosiers labeled with a big “10,” but team’s individual records don’t matter at this point.

IU has a clean slate — a 0-0 record, if you will.

When the Hoosiers tip off late this afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse, the team will be starting the first of a potential four-game run towards a bid into the NCAA Tournament.
While significantly easier said than done, anything is possible.

Just look at Georgia in 2008, a team that was 4-12 in the Southeastern Conference and 13-16 overall, yet completed an improbable run to grab the SEC’s automatic bid into the big dance.

Although the IU players might have a similar run on their minds, more than anything, the Big Ten Tournament presents the team with a chance to build off its recent 88-80 overtime victory against Northwestern.

It presents a chance to show this team is continuing to get better and work hard to improve each day.

IU coach Tom Crean wasn’t certain how much momentum his team actually had riding on a one-game winning streak that was preceded by 11 consecutive losses. At the same time, his approach to today’s game wasn’t any different than the strategies he used with his best Marquette teams.

“It wouldn’t make a difference whether we’re the first seed or not, you’re going to do everything you can do give your team every avenue to be successful in your preparation,” he said.

Due to its practice schedule the previous week, IU was forced to take two days off this week — the team opted for Sunday and Tuesday.

Sophomore guard Verdell Jones said the team has been “really focused,” and the players still came into Assembly Hall to prepare for the Northwestern game.
Unlike some of his teammates, Jones knows the pressure of playing well when one loss will send the Hoosiers back down State Road 37.

“I know we’ve said that in the past, in previous games, but in the postseason everybody’s trying to play to get a berth to the NCAA Tournament,” Jones said. “You’ve got to play your best no matter what.”

On Saturday, IU played the best it had in more than a month, but even that means only so much.

Whereas the Hoosiers have tweaked its strategy following the recent win against Northwestern, the Wildcats have also corrected their mistakes and are looking for ways to disrupt Crean’s game plan.
After all, Northwestern’s slate is clean as well, and they, too, have a lot at stake.
Its no different for any other team at conference tournament time, whether they’re in the Big Ten, the Big East, the Big Sky or the Big West.
All that will be on display today and throughout the rest of the week in Indianapolis. But it isn’t about which team is seeded what or which players were all-conference selections.
“The postseason is a whole new season,” Jones said. 

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