If you’ve seen the Big Ten basketball standings lately, you know Indiana rules. It has a two-game lead with four games to play. It is poised to achieve its No. 1 regular season goal – well, an unbeaten season would have been nice, but those days are long gone in this era of extreme parity – by winning its first conference championship since 2002 and its 21st overall.
SMALL FACT: in a Monday column, and because of our inability to count, we had IU with 18 Big Ten titles instead of 20. A WHOLE bunch of people let us know the error of our ways.
Anyway, controlling your own destiny is nice, unless you let yourself get caught up in all the excitement and, yes pressure.
Coach Tom Crean isn’t about to let his No. 1 Hoosiers, the guys with the 24-3 record, 12-2 Big Ten mark and four-game winning streak, to get distracted by all of that. He understands tonight’s challenge at Minnesota, a former top-10 team that has lost its way.
“If you start focusing on hypotheticals and where you’re sitting rather than where you’re going, you’re asking for trouble,” he said. “(The players are) like anybody else. They know what the standings are. They know who’s playing who. They know who’s playing when.
“We know we’re playing (tonight) against a really good team. These guys have done a phenomenal job of staying with that all year.”
Like Indiana, Minnesota has had a week off since its last game. Unlike IU, the Gophers have sprung a bunch of leaks, much of it centered on an offense that, to be blunt, stinks.They haven’t broken the 60-point barrier in five games. They’ve committed 41 turnovers in the last two games, both blow-out road losses.
Still, Minnesota is back home now, at ancient Williams Arena with its raised floor. It is 13-1 at home and has such formidable players as double-double threat Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and Andre and Austin Hollins.
They play a variety of defense and thrive with full-court pressure, especially when the stakes are high.
With an 18-9 record, 6-8 in the Big Ten, and NCAA tourney prospects in doubt, the stakes are very high.
“They present a ton of problems when they’re allowed to get out and press and spread out and get into you,” Crean said. “We’ve got to prepared for that. We didn’t deal real well with that here. We wpent a lot of time preparing for that.”
Crean referred to last month’s 88-1 win at Assembly Hall. IU built a 52-29 halftime lead, then held on at the end.
“We’ve got to be good with meeting our passes, dealing with the pressure,” Crean said. “We have to attacking the press the way we want to. Don’t get back on our heals.”
As far as the week of preparation, Crean said it was spent, “Getting ready, not only for Minnesota, but to sharpen our game up and make sure our skill levels continue to rise. We’ve had a good week of practices. Minnesota will be another one of those high energy, high intensity Big Ten battles.”
Here’s the bottom line. After tonight IU hosts Iowa and Ohio State, then ends the regular season at Michigan. The Hoosiers seem a lock to win their final two home games -- or at least as much of a lock as you can get in the rugged Big Ten. So if they win tonight, they basically clinch a conference championship.
Just don’t expect to hear that from the Hoosiers. They’re too busy doing what needs to be done.
Nobody is more passionate about Indiana than Mark Deal, a former Hoosier assistant football coach and player. The current assistant athletic director for alumni relations with the football program is set to be inducted into the IU Football Hall of Fame in December.
Here’s the official release:
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Former Indiana football player and assistant coach Mark Deal will beinducted into the state of Indiana Football Hall of Fame on May 5, 2013. Deal is currently an assistant athletic director for alumni relations with the IU football program.
Deal’s brother, Mike, is also a member of the induction class and their father, Russ, was inducted in 1976.
Prior to his current position, Deal served as an assistant director of development with Indiana’s Varsity Club. He played from 1975-78 and coached in 1979 and from 1996-99 for the Hoosiers.
Deal played center and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1979 under head coach Lee Corso. The 1979 squad finished with an 8-4 record, including a Holiday Bowl victory over Brigham Young University, 38-37.
In 1980, Deal was named the linebackers coach at Wabash College. He spent four years at the Division III school, including the 1983 season, which he spent as the team’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Mike played on IU’s 1967 Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl team. He played from 1966-69 and served as a graduate assistant in 1970.
Former Hoosier Randy Beisler (1962-65) will join the duo in the class. Beisler was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles and played nine seasons with the Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.