FORT WAYNE – Indiana has already accomplished something it hadn’t done for 20 years, and now the No. 3 Hoosiers (26-5) will try to do something they have never done.
Indiana goes into the Big Ten tournament, which starts today in Chicago, looking to win the conference tournament for the first time since it began in 1998. This is the first time IU is the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament.
The Hoosiers won their first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 1993 with Sunday’s 72-71 win at No. 6 Michigan, and senior guard Jordan Hulls said the team isn’t done collecting titles yet.
We’ve been working so hard this entire season to get to this point, Hulls said. We’ve had some ups and downs, but this team fought through. We’re not done yet, so we got to keep on keeping on.
Indiana coach Tom Crean said he will not use the pursuit of the program’s first league tournament title to motivate his players, just like he didn’t want the Hoosiers focusing on winning the regular-season title for the first time since 1993.
When you start putting that in people’s heads, you start giving them pressure that they don’t need, Crean said. Trust me, there’s enough pressure in the games. We don’t need to be focused on what hasn’t happened. They need to be focused on each game, how they go into this week preparing so that they are prepared to play either team on Friday, that we pace them the right way, and then we go see what happens.
Winning the Big Ten tournament could get the Hoosiers the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament.
Indiana is projected as one of the four top seeds going into this week, and Crean said he thinks his team will retain a No. 1 seed no matter what happens in Chicago.
I think you win this league the way that we did, you win this league outright with everything that has gone on this season and this league – yes, I think so, Crean said of being an NCAA No. 1 seed.
But before Indiana finds out what it will have to do to win a national title, it will start the postseason run in the Big Ten’s second round at noon Friday. The Hoosiers play the winner of the tournament’s opening game between No. 6 seed Illinois (21-11) and No. 9 seed Minnesota (20-11).
IU lost to both of its potential opponents during the regular season.
Illinois defeated then-No. 1 IU 74-72 on Feb. 7 when Tyler Griffey made a layup at the buzzer to cap a 13-2 Illini rally at Champaign. The Gophers knocked off Indiana, when it was also ranked No. 1, 77-73 on Feb. 26 in Minneapolis.
The Hoosiers did beat the then-No. 8 Gophers 88-81 on Jan. 12 at home. And while the pursuit of a title is out there, players said they will not look past any games.
We are just going to take it one game at a time and treat every game like it is our last game, junior guard Victor Oladipo said.
That is an attitude that Crean likes to hear.
The moment you even remotely get ahead of yourself, you are going home, Crean said. I think it is a great learning experience. It’s a great venue for people to learn how to play in those situations. We are looking forward to it.
Note: Oladipo was named the Sporting News player of the year Wednesday. He was previously named to the Sporting News All-America team, the All-Big Ten first team and as the conference’s defensive player of the year.