Given the strength of the conference this season, would we expect anything less?
So let's start with what we know. Michigan State hammered Wisconsin 58-43 Thursday night.
What did that prove?
First, Indiana gets the No. 1 seed in next week's Big Ten tourney at Chicago's United Center.
Second, Wisconsin can't share the conference title, won't have a first-round bye and, as the No. 5 seed, will open play Thursday against No. 12 seed Penn State.
Other than that, nothing is sure except the Hoosiers need to win at Michigan on Sunday to reestablish themselves as national title contenders, blast away any negative vibes from Tuesday's loss to Ohio State and squash all talk of a shared Big Ten title.
Consider the facts. IU has a 13-4 conference record with one game left. Right behind at 12-5 are Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.
If the Hoosiers lose to Michigan and tie those teams, they win the tiebreaker to determine the conference tourney No. 1 seed. Why? Because they would have a 4-2 record against the other co-champs — 1-1 against Michigan and Ohio State, 2-0 against Michigan State. Michigan and Ohio State would be 3-3. Michigan State would be 2-4.
But IU doesn't want that. It doesn't want to share, and it won't if it plays to its ability. All things are still possible as long as it beats Michigan.
It would earn its first outright Big Ten title since 1993. It would almost certainly lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It would get a Dayton/Lexington opening round site, and then a Sweet 16 berth in Indianapolis if it wins its opening pair of games.
Most importantly, it would regain the swagger it had earned after last month's Michigan State victory.
The Hoosiers had a week off following that prime-time win, then got punished at Minnesota, was sluggish in a win over Iowa, and got out-toughed at home by Ohio State.
Two losses in three games is bad. Three losses in four games, which will be the case if they lose at Michigan, will not impress the NCAA tourney selection committee no matter what the overall body of work is.
It's like taking Roger Federer to a fifth set championship match tiebreaker at Wimbledon, and then losing. Yes, it's great you got that far, but finish the job. In other words, win at Crisler Arena, where the Wolverines are 20-0 this season.
Coach Tom Crean insisted the Hoosiers won't blow this game out of proportion, that they'll use the same one-game-at-a-time approach that has produced 25 victories this season.
“There is no question that we'll go into it with a one-game season mindset,” he said. “That's how you coach this time of year. That's exactly how we're going to operate as much as possible.
“I don't think you get better if you start doing the what-ifs and what if we do this and what if we do that. You go in and say, we're going to really get after this. We know we're playing a really good team. We know what they're capable of. We know the stakes for them. We're going to focus on getting ourselves better as much as possible in preparing for them.”
Those preparations start with stopping — or at least slowing down — Wolverine superstar guard Trey Burke. He is the only Big Ten player to have scored at least 15 points in every conference game this season. In Wednesday's comeback win at Purdue, Burke scored 26 points, 22 in the second half. He had seven assists and one turnover. He had three steals.
During last month's 81-73 win over Michigan in Assembly Hall, Burke had 25 points (but was just 9-for-24 from the field), eight assists and five rebounds.
Figure he and IU's Victor Oladipo, perhaps the Big Ten's best defender, will see a lot of each other on Sunday.
But beyond that, the Hoosiers have to address the many flaws that surfaced against Ohio State. They have to handle physical play, push the pace, win the rebound battle, stop Michigan's transition, and minimize turnovers.
And one other thing — make shots. That's been a huge problem lately. IU shot 42.3 percent against Minnesota, 38.9 percent against Iowa and 39.6 percent against Ohio State. Given it ranks among the nation's best shooting teams at 49.4 percent, that must be corrected.
Sunday at Crisler Arena is the perfect place to start.
Up nextTipoff: Indiana at Michigan, 4 p.m. Sunday
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