Hoosiers getting used to life with a top seed

Indiana isn’t used to preparing like this.

The Hoosiers have been in plenty of tournaments and played on neutral sites, but this group has never collectively had a bye and they’ve certainly never had a bye in the Big Ten Tournament. When they met with the media on Wednesday, they weren’t even sure what they’d be doing on Thursday when eight of the conference’s 12 teams will be playing at the United Center in Chicago, whether they’d be in the arena to scout or not.

“We have no idea,” senior guard Jordan Hulls said. “We just do what we’re told.”

But simply being in the position they’re in means something and speaks, yet again, to how far they’ve come since the difficult years. In coach Tom Crean’s first three seasons, the Hoosiers went into the Big Ten Tournament knowing their season would end when they lost and they never made it past the Thursday night opening round. This time, the No. 1 seed Hoosiers don’t even play until Friday — when they get the winner of No. 8 seed Illinois and No. 9 Minnesota at noon — and whatever happens, their season will continue and they will probably still have a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“My first two years, we were playing on Wednesdays,” junior guard Victor Oladipo said. “Is it Wednesday’s? Oh, Thursdays. If you’re playing on Wednesday, it’s a problem. We were playing on Thursday’s, and this year to have a bye and to be able to play on Friday, it just shows how much hard work we’ve gone through during the season. To pull off that tough win was huge for our program and huge for our team. But at the same time, I feel like we want to accomplish so much more. And the Big Ten Tournament is the first thing.”

There are dissenting arguments against the idea of the Hoosiers even trying to win the Big Ten Tournament. The more important prize is certainly the NCAA title and there is the potential for Indiana to wear itself out trying to claim the Hoosiers’ first ever Big Ten Tournament championship in the 16th year of the event’s existence. Winning the tournament will likely require the Hoosiers to beat three NCAA Tournament bound teams in three days. The winner of the Illinois-Minnesota game will probably get in and —unless Penn State somehow manages to upset Michigan and Wisconsin in succession — their semifinal opponent will be a Top 25 team. Some goes if either Ohio State or Michigan State comes out of the bottom of the bracket to play in the finals.

But the Hoosiers have no plans on coasting, and regardless of the the results, they simply want to continue playing consistent basketball closer to what they did against Michigan on Sunday than to the level they played at in the previous three games in losses to Ohio State and Minnesota and the ugly rock fight win against Iowa.

“Hopefully we just play well like we’ve done here,” senior forward Derek Elston said. “… It’s tournament time, a lot of things go right for teams, a lot of things go wrong for teams. We just want to be able to go out there every night and play the way we’ve bee playing. Play strong, play physical, play Indiana basketball and then we’ll see what happens from there. Either way, if we just stay confident, a lot of good things are gonna happen.”

Preparation has been a challenge because the Hoosiers don’t know exactly who they’re going to play. They’ve been running plays by both the Fighting Illini and Golden Gophers in practice and trying to get as much knowledge as possible crammed in on both teams.

It helps their focus that there is plenty of demonstrated evidence that both teams are dangerous. The Fighting Illini and Golden Gophers are without question the Big Ten’s most schizophrenic teams. They were both Top 25 teams early in the season. Illinois started the season 12-0 with wins over Gonzaga and Butler. Minnesota started 15-1 with wins over Michigan State and Memphis among others.

And, of course, both teams both claimed victories over the Hoosiers this year, drawing courtstormings by beating Indiana when it was ranked No. 1.

“It makes us more focused definitely,” Oladipo said. “Just because they’ve beaten us and they’re capable of beating us. But at the same time, you’ve gotta be focused on anybody in this league, and we are focused on everybody on this league. You can lose any given night, like I said. That’s just the beauty of this league, how tough it is. We’re going to be prepared to play anybody whether it be Minnesota or Illinois.”

AUDIO: Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls

AUDIO: Will Sheehey, Cody Zeller, Derek Elston

AUDIO: Victor Oladipo

7 comments

  1. I don’t know what the best strategy is, but I know what IU’s will be. CTC wants his team to be consistent, and to do so he wants them to play hard no matter what the score. This team follows his lead. The Hoosiers will be going all out to win the BTT.

  2. They better go all out to win this tourney because I’ve got tix to all games.

    Dustin – I was looking at the seating diagram for the UC and I noticed press row is by my section (117). Since you owe me, can I borrow your press pass to go on the court before Friday’s game and take a couple warm up shots?

  3. Strategy. IU has a maximum of 10 games left to play. If my counting is correct. Starting with the Barclay’s NY series, IU has at the most won 6 consecutive games, twice this year.

    With the first priority being #1 seed in the Midwest. And apparently some of that depends on the outcomes of both Louisville and Georgetown, guessing IU needs to win first two games? A loss in the championship game, if it were to happen may be an OK thing?

    That would leave a 7 game stretch to win them all. Or a 10 game stretch to win it all. Possible the 3 B1G games would equate to Sweet 16 NCAA strength teams.?

    May be good for the Hoosiers to get out of the B1G calibre teams and sample some of the other compitition. They may have an issue with the way the ‘other’ games are ref’ed, outside the B1G. Could take a big adjustment.

    There are 15-20 teams I could see give IU a fight, but if the guys are ‘on’, don’t think anyone can match up to them.

    Success could come down to the play of Elston, Will and Hollowell.

    Or, it’s possible I’ve not had enough coffee yet and not thinking straight. Let the games begin. Go Hoosiers.

  4. Ron,

    Personally I like your line of reasoning. I am similarly in tune with our streaks this year. I would prefer they don’t play in the championship game. Instead I’ll take the loss in the semis and skip the additional rough and tumble B1G game. I don’t think it would effect our seeding, or at least our region. Playing in the championship game means playing 3 days in a row against really rugged teams… More chances to get hurt. Fewer days of rest. Less time to focus on the NCAA tourney.

    I also think that reffing will make a difference in the tournament, but I tend to believe it will be in IU’s favor. I think that B1G officials let more go than most… I think we play better in a game where our opponent isn’t allowed to turn it into a wrestling match. I think we are better than any other team in the country at just playing basketball.

    I also agree that the bench will have added importance. Most coaches look at the NCAA as a series of 3 2-game tournaments… Since you play with only a day of rest between games each weekend you need to have contributions from your bench in most cases, especially on the second weekend. Top seeds can generally go deep into the bench in their first round games, which keeps kids fresh for the round of 32, then they get 4 or 5 days before the Sweet 16. Now you’re playing 2 really tough games in a matter of 48 hours, so you have to tighten your rotation, but be liberal in playing your 2 or 3 bench contributors. One the 3rd weekend, Final Four, you can tighten the rotation and be more stringent with bench minutes because there’s nothing left to play for after that weekend. You can let your top 6 guys play as much as able and leave it all out on the court. At least that’s my take.

  5. Just throwing this out there. IU has always done poorly in the Big Ten tourney and they’ve never won a national championship in the process.

    Let’s let them go ahead and win everything from here on out.

    Regarding substitutions, the media has been all over CTC for substituting too much all year. Maybe he’s been playing chess while everyone else has been playing checkers all along. It’s a long season. Besides giving the bench experience during crunch time he also been letting the starters rest more during the season. At the end of the day we’re conference champs and very likely will have a #1 seed. Hasn’t that been the goal all along? In the process he’s given the bench lots of playing time. Why should we care if Seth Davis wanted the starters in more?

    It all seems ideal for the team.

  6. I look at our schedule and I don’t see more than five wins in a row. I do see 9 wins and one loss in a row. If this is any indication I think there’s one more loss in the cards for Coach Crean. If we place it well (maybe tourney final?) it could build motivation and set up a great run to the sixth banner.

    Of course, just making sure we avoid losing for the rest of the season would definitely be better. Let’s hope for it and let this be our rallying cry. (I find it to be very inspiring! Crean’s crazed smile truly makes him look like a genius. Or a duck. Or a genius duck. Definitely priceless. I hope he will see more of this over the next weeks. And we should definitely keep cutting the nets regardless — before and especially after the game(s)!)

  7. Ditto, Chet.

    I’ve always felt the most important game of the “big show” is the 2nd game. Maybe even more so for the B1G T. You can have a competitive game but if you have to waste your starters to win it may not bode well for the next competition.

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