BLOOMINGTON –- Now it's Wisconsin, the surprising conqueror of previous powerhouse Illinois.
Now it's time to take sole possession of the Big Ten lead.
Are the Indiana Hoosiers ready?
Saturday's first half against Minnesota left no doubt. The second half fueled concern.
So which is it?
Like so many things, there is no black-and-white answer. There is belief and effort and determination.
And, of course, the Assembly Hall advantage.
Tom Crean calls it a process. That sounds ominous, like a new Kevin Bacon drama or an Oliver Stone conspiracy movie.
Sorry. All this end-of-game drama (See IU over Minnesota, Ohio State over Michigan, Atlanta over Seattle and Baltimore over Denver) has left things a little woozy.
Anyway, IU (15-1) has been built for this opportunity. It is poised to take early control of the Big Ten race by beating Wisconsin (12-4) on Tuesday night. Both teams are tied for first with 3-0 records. Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State are right behind at 3-1.
A couple of years ago the Hoosier program seemed a wreck. Now, it rates with any in America. It started with recruiting, continued with player development, and is reinforced by philosophy and mindset.
So what is this “process?”
Here's Crean's interpretation:
“We have different expectation levels now. It's not the outside expectations. It's the expectation level inside of where we need to be. I think we have a lot of room for improvement.
“It sounds like, to most, a corny, cliché word you can have when you start talking about process, but that's what it is. That's why people use it in business, in school, in coaching. It's a process, and we have to continue to learn from that.
“When it takes that next step is when the players understand that they can play better. I think they do. I think they know that they can be more efficient.”
You'd better believe the players know. They nearly blew the Minnesota game. They got out-toughed by Butler. They bounced back. They learned.
“We have a lot of stuff to work on,” guard Victor Oladipo says. “There are some big games down the road.
“We'll watch the (Minnesota) tape and see that doesn't happen again. We'll correct it. Good teams are coming up. We've got to be ready for them.”
Crean wanted his players to enjoy Saturday's 88-81 victory over No. 8 Minnesota, but not to dwell on it. There is too much work ahead for that. You appreciate, but you are never, ever satisfied.
So when it comes to the second-half struggles that almost negated the first-half excellence, point guard Yogi Ferrell was, well, to the point.
“We got complacent. We have to have that same edge, that same burst, we had in the first half.”
Crean praises his players' work ethic, what he calls “our 365-days-a-year guys,” but that's not enough. He wants little things done well, the intangibles that separate winners from those who wish they were.
“We've got to be a consistent rebounding team,” he says. “That has to continue to go up. We've got to be a consistent transition defensive team. We've got to figure out when we can really put teams away.”
Crean wants recognition of time and situation. When the Hoosiers got in the bonus with 12 minutes left against Minnesota, the offense should have focused on driving to the basket, posting up and drawing more fouls instead of settling for jump shots.
“That's part of the process -- really understanding,” Crean says. “We've got a lot of guys who can score, a lot of guys who can play offense. We're getting better all the time as a defensive team. But let's understand what really puts a team away. I don't think we did that.
“I don't want to take the speed of the game away, the quick pace of the game away, but at times we really need this. It needs to go here right now, so we've got a better opportunity to get to the foul line. That's decision making. Those things have to go up.”
IU is pointed upward, both in the polls now that there are no remaining unbeaten teams and because of its ultimate goals.
“After the Butler loss, (the players) came right back and got better,” Crean says. “They had a film session by themselves. I read all the notes. They were really on point and on target. And then they did something about it.”
The Hoosiers can do something about it again Tuesday night. If they really buy into the process, they will.