Monday, March 4, 2013

IU Clinches Big Ten Title -- Now Keep Going

Indiana won a championship by doing nothing.

In a manner of speaking.

The Hoosiers earned their 21st Big Ten title on what was, at least from a game standpoint, a day of rest. When Wisconsin lost a stunning home game to previously struggling Purdue, when Michigan State lost at Michigan, both happening on Sunday, IU clinched at least a tie for the conference crown.

Indiana, of course, did its job by beating Iowa on Saturday.

It is 13-3 with two games remaining -- Tuesday against Ohio State at Assembly Hall; Sunday at Michigan.

Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan are all 11-5.

The Hoosiers haven’t won any kind of Big Ten title since 2002, when under coach Mike Davis they went on to the national championship game, losing to Maryland. Their last outright Big Ten crown came in 1993. They can duplicate that by beating the Buckeyes or the Wolverines.

Beat the Buckeyes and get it over with.

All this is great. It’s a major accomplishment given where the program was just a couple of years ago, when Kelvin Sampson ruined things with his phone call habits and his knack for recruiting, at least in part, the wrong kind of guys.

Only Purdue, with 22 Big Ten titles, has won more than Indiana.

So now let’s get to the big picture -- win these last two games and clinch a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed.

That’s the ultimate goal. A No. 1 seed gets you to opening round games in either Dayton or Lexington. Assuming IU would be No. 1 in the Midwest Regional, it would then play Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Indianapolis.

The Final Four is in Atlanta.

The Hoosiers don’t want to add uncertainty by losing. If they would lose at Michigan, which is undefeated at home this season, and then lose in the Big Ten tourney, that very well could knock them to a No. 2 NCAA tourney seed.

Yes, you could argue that IU (25-4 overall) already has done enough to earn a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed. It is 5-0 against ranked Big Ten teams and is 6-2 on the conference road.

That’s especially impressive given the Big Ten is, by far, the best conference in America.

Still, if the Hoosiers would lose at Michigan and then in the conference tourney in Chicago, coupled with last week’s loss at Minnesota, that would given the NCAA selection committee a chance to move another team into a No. 1 seed.

For now, it seems Gonzaga and Duke are No. 1 locks.

Gonzaga is 29-2 and 11-2 against teams in the top 100 RPI. Its only losses are to Illinois and Butler (on a last-second shot at Hinkle Fieldhouse).

Duke is 25-4 and just got forward Ryan Kelly back from a foot injury. That’s the same Kelly who scored 36 points to beat Miami in his first game back.

If Indiana stumbles down the stretch, it could get passed by Kansas (25-4), Georgetown (23-4), Louisville (24-5) or even Michigan (24-5).

The best Cream ‘n Crimson scenario is to win this week’s games and make the Big Ten tourney irrelevant as far as the NCAA selection committee is concerned. That would mean IU would have won its last three games and seven of its last eight, including a road victory at Michigan. It would provide just the kind of momentum you want entering postseason play.

The Hoosiers are right where they want to be. They just need to finish the regular season job.

That starts Tuesday night against Ohio State.


Indiana has opened its spring football practice. Optimism is high the Hoosiers can finally return to bowl relevance by winning at least six games.

They return a ton of players (including quarterback Tre Roberson). They went 1-11 in coach Kevin Wilson’s first season, 4-8 in his second. They lost heart breakers to Ball State, Navy and Michigan State – and that was despite not having Roberson (he missed most of the season with a broken leg) and a ridiculously bad defense (it gave up 163 points in its last three games and allowed 231.3 rushing yards in every game).

IU will open its season on a Thursday night when it hosts Indiana State on Aug. 29. It’s the third time the Hoosiers have opened on a Thursday night. They beat Eastern Kentucky in 2009 and Towson in 2010.

They also have eight home games. The others are Navy (Sept. 7), Bowling Green (Sept. 14), Missouri (Sept. 21), Penn State (Oct. 5), Minnesota (Nov. 2), Illinois (Nov. 9) and Purdue (Nov. 30).

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