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Indiana 'locked in' despite schedule

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For more on Big Ten athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Big weekend for the Big Ten

Saturday, January 12, 2013 - 6:20 am

Tom Crean is an action coach, and nothing says action more than games, particularly when it comes to the Big Ten.

But action was hard to find in the No. 5 Hoosiers' opening two weeks. They played just twice, beating Iowa and Penn State.

Everything changes starting today. They hosted No. 8 Minnesota. They'll follow that with Tuesday's game against Wisconsin and next Sunday's trip to Northwestern.

“It is what it is,” Crean said. “The games will come fast and furious now.

“It's hard for a veteran team to have played as few games as we have and to stay locked in as well as they have. That's a sign they really want to be good.”

Added guard Victor Oladipo: “It seems like we have two long weeks to prepare for games. It's time to get rolling for real.”

IU has started games as late as 9:30 p.m. Today's game was the earliest, at noon. Was that an adjustment?

“We still have the same schedule,” forward Cody Zeller said. “We'll eat four hours before the game. Not much changes.”

Big Big Ten weekend

It's a big weekend for the Big Ten.

All six of the league's ranked teams are in action. It's highlighted by No. 5 Indiana's showdown with No. 8 Minnesota at Assembly Hall. There's also No. 12 Illinois at Wisconsin, No. 2 Michigan at No. 15 Ohio State and Nebraska at No. 22 Michigan State.

It's going to get rough, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

“There are so many good teams,” he said. “Everybody measures a conference. Publicly you measure it by the Dukes and North Carolinas. Right now we have Michigan and Indiana in the top five. You get measured that way, but the true measure of a great conference is the middle and the bottom.

“Purdue comes in with the worst record in the league and beats Illinois solidly. They came up here and played awfully well for two-thirds of the game and supposedly they're one of the bottom teams in the league.

“It will be tougher to win on the road, just because there are better teams top to bottom. We've also got some good coaches and that's what makes it harder.”

Australian visit

IU is hosting an official visit this weekend from the nation's No. 17 player in the Class of 2014.

The twist -- he's from Australia.

Dante Exum is a 6-5 guard from the Australia Institute of Sport. He's the son of Cecil Exum, a member of North Carolina's 1982 national title team. The father played seven years in the Australian National Basketball League, and decided to live there permanently.

Dante didn't generate much recruiting interest until last summer, when he thrived in an AAU event in Las Vegas, and then in the Adidas Nations tourney in California.

Exum also averaged 17.3 points at last summer's FIBA Under 17 World Championships.

IU only has one committed player for the Class of 2014 – Bishop Luers guard James Blackmon.

The undefeated challenge

It's been nearly 40 years since a Big Ten team went undefeated in conference play. That would be Indiana, which went 18-0 in 1975 and '76.

Since then four teams have finished with one conference loss: Indiana in 1993, Michigan State in 1999, Illinois in 2005 and Ohio State in 2007.

Four teams began the weekend unbeaten in Big Ten action. Michigan and Minnesota were 3-0. IU and Wisconsin were 2-0.

The odds of any team making it out of January undefeated, let alone the whole season, said Michigan coach John Beilein, aren't good.

“The No. 1 reason is you play more games,” Beilein said. “When I was first coaching in Division II, and I think Division I was the same way, you played 25 to 26 games (in the regular season). With the 31 games now, there are so many more stumbling blocks.

“Also you used to be able to play a very soft schedule before league play. Now, if you want to get into the NCAA Tournament, you'd better play good teams outside your conference.

“Those two things make it virtually impossible to go through a season with a loss. Could it happen? It might, but it's obviously very difficult.”