After the grueling journey through what many have called the toughest men’s basketball conference in the NCAA, the IU men’s basketball team emerged as the outright Big Ten regular season champions, a feat no IU team had accomplished since 1993.
But for the team that came into the 2012-13 season as the nation’s No. 1 team, a regular season conference title was only the start of what they hope will be something very special.
“It feels like the season is starting over again,” junior guard Victor Oladipo said.
Oladipo and the Hoosiers will begin their post season run this Friday at 12 p.m. ET at the United Center in Chicago with their first game of the Big Ten postseason tournament against Illinois.
To pull out a win Sunday against then-No. 7 Michigan in the final minute, the Hoosiers had to not only battle through the defense of Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke and the rest of the Wolverines, but also play in Crisler Arena filled with more than 12,000 neon yellow-clad screaming Wolverine fans.
Yet in Chicago, as well as every game the Hoosiers play during the post season, they will no longer have to deal with the noise and tension of playing in an arena where most of the crowd is rooting for them to lose.
During three neutral-site games this season - two games in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the Progressive Legends Classic at the Barclays Center against Georgia and Georgetown, along with one game in Indianapolis in the Boston Scientific Close the Gap Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against Butler – the Hoosiers have clearly had the advantage in crowd numbers.
In Brooklyn, the Barclays Center was nearly filled with crimson shirts and jerseys, even during the Georgetown game when Hoya fans would have had to have traveled less than 300 miles from Washington D.C., while Hoosiers from Bloomington had to drive or fly nearly 800 miles to make the trip.
As senior guard Jordan Hulls said, no matter where the Hoosiers play, especially with the team’s success this season, there’s always a good number of IU fans in the crowd.
“It’s a fun environment. IU fans always travel really well,” Hulls said. “We’ll have people there cheering for us, but we’ll also have people cheering against us as well. It’s always fun to go to a new place. We’re ready to do well, so it’ll be fun.”
Along with the three games this season as well as the NCAA Tournament last season, several Hoosiers have past experience playing in the neutral court environment. Freshman guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, sophomore forward Cody Zeller and Hulls each played in Bankers Life Fieldhouse during their high school careers while vying for Indiana state basketball championships.
Additionally, Ferrell and Zeller have each played in the United Center previously, each during their respective McDonald’s All-American games in high school, and they both echoed that playing in an NBA arena does pose a different type of atmosphere compared to playing at home or away on a college court.
Yet, when it’s all said and done, junior forward Will Sheehey said that the Hoosiers can’t look at this tournament and the post season any differently than the regular season, where the Hoosiers went 26-5 while wrapping up a regular season conference title along with the possibility of holding a No. 1-seed when it comes time for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re preparing for it the same way,” Sheehey said. “We’ll have the same mental focus and the same preparation as always.
“We’ve been preparing for this stretch for a long time. We played in the preseason tournament up in Brooklyn, which was similar. It’s a tough league, and it’ll be a tough little tournament.”