Indiana Daily Student

Hoosiers look for outright win of Big Ten

Hoosier fans cheer for IU underneath the five national championship banners, before the game against OSU on March 5 at Assembly Hall. IU will face Michigan on March 10 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.
Hoosier fans cheer for IU underneath the five national championship banners, before the game against OSU on March 5 at Assembly Hall. IU will face Michigan on March 10 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.

Even before their stunning loss to No. 14 Ohio State March 5, on Senior Night no less, the IU men’s basketball team already had something to be proud of.

After the team’s win against Iowa the weekend before, coupled with losses by Wisconsin and Michigan State the following day, the Hoosiers had clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, something the program hadn’t done since 2002 when IU, with former IU Coach Mike Davis on the bench, made a journey all the way to the national championship game before falling to Maryland in the finals.

Before the March 5 loss, IU Coach Tom Crean said the athletic department, along with IU President Michael McRobbie, had planned a coronation ceremony to celebrate what they hoped would be an outright Big Ten title after seniors Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Derek Elston gave their Senior Night speeches.

But with the 67-58 loss, the Hoosiers instead cut down the nets and snapped photos with the championship trophy while donning Big Ten champion hats with blank stares and signs of disappointment in the postgame press conference.

“We were trying to celebrate what these guys have earned, but at the same time, we didn’t earn it tonight,” Crean said in the postgame press conference.

Instead of what could have been the ultimate celebration on Senior Night, the Hoosiers will have to pull out a victory Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich. against No. 7 Michigan in order to seal the first outright Big Ten regular season title in Bloomington in 20 years to go along with the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten postseason tournament the following week.

More than a month ago when the teams first met under the pressure of College GameDay, the Hoosiers took down then-No. 1 Michigan 81-73 in Assembly Hall in what was one of the most balanced scoring games by IU’s starting five this season.

Each of the five starters scored at least 11 points, with sophomore forward Cody Zeller leading the way with 19 on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. Hulls anchored an IU 3-point attack that was nearly 40 percent for the game, shooting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc by himself.

IU gave up 25 points to national Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke, but it took the sophomore guard 24 shots from the field to get there as the Wolverines shot 42.9 percent from the floor, compared to IU’s 52 percent.

After that win, the Hoosiers took over as the No. 1 team in the country, and it appeared that after victories against Ohio State and Michigan State in the following weeks that IU was lined up for the outright conference title.

But two losses in the past three games have hurt their chances.

A win on March 10 against Michigan would clinch the outright title. A loss would mean the Hoosiers will be sharing the honors with at least Michigan, and possibly Ohio State and Michigan State. Tiebreakers will instead determine IU’s seeding in the Big Ten tournament. With titles for both teams on the line, there’s no question the Michigan game will be one of the most important of the season, Crean said, but he added that it’s only one in a long list of big games for the Hoosiers this year.

“They’re all big games,” he said. “There’s no question we’ll go into that with a one-game mindset. That’s how you coach this time of year, and that’s exactly how we’re going to operate as much as possible.

“We know we’re playing a really good team. We know what they’re capable of. We know the stakes for them.”

The stakes for IU, though, are arguably higher. After Michigan’s upset loss to the bottom of the Big Ten, Penn State, the Wolverines fell to No. 7 even with a win against then-No. 9 Michigan State and hurt their chances at claiming a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Even with the March 5 loss at home, the Hoosiers are still projected by many of the national analysts to hold onto the No. 1 seed in the Midwest for now, but going into the postseason on a two-game losing streak could put that into serious jeopardy.

But for now, Crean said he’s got his players focusing on the game ahead, not the standings or the rankings or seeding. Taking care of business will allow all that to fall into place, he said.

“We just want to win the next game, “ he said. “That’s really what the focus is on, there’s no hyperbole. There’s no more than what it is other than to win the next game.
“Right now, we just need to go up there and put our best foot forward and focus on Michigan and not the rest of it.”

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