IU is No. 1 for the first time since mid-December. The Hoosiers got 58 of the 65 first place votes by AP voters and 25 of the 31 first-place votes in the USA Today coaches poll to jump from No. 3
That's what crushing Purdue at Mackey Arena and beating then top-ranked Michigan at Assembly Hall can do for you.
The problem, though, is staying there.
Indiana was No. 1 through the season's first five weeks. Losing to Butler at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse knocked the Hoosiers out of the top spot and they've spent the time since trying to work their way back. Last month's loss to Wisconsin kept them out before this past big week — they also beat Michigan State in Assembly Hall — pushed them to the top.
Keeping that No. 1 ranking won't be easy. In the last four weeks Duke, Louisville, Duke and Michigan have held and lost that position.
Beyond that, the Hoosiers (20-2) face a grueling month. They travel to Illinois (15-8) on Thursday and to No. 10 Ohio State (17-4) on Sunday. Still ahead are trips to No. 12 Michigan State (18-4), No. 18 Minnesota (17-5) and No. 3 Michigan (20-2).
So how do you sustain this top-ranked success? You do it in part, coach Tom Crean said, by taking advantage of previous adversity. And given IU lost at least 20 games in each of Crean's first three seasons, the worst stretch in school history, there's plenty of adversity to draw from.
“It's an on-going challenge,” Crean said. “The moment you get over-whelmed or under-whelmed in either one of (those situations — too much or too little success), then you're in trouble. The moments we were trying to claw and fight to have a chance in any game taught us, reiterated to us, how important detailed preparation was. We were building confidence in any little area we could find. You want to give the players some type of confidence that they can win. The process is about their confidence.
“Then, as we got better, make sure they appreciate how hard it is to be in a spot like this. The reason they are is because their work ethic is so strong. They take nothing for granted. We want to keep building a confident mindset and not an arrogant mindset.
“Our job as coaches is to make sure that's what we're building. They're seeing that through us and we're looking for any little sign when that's not the case.”
IU has won five straight games since that Wisconsin loss at Assembly Hall to reach the halfway point of the Big Ten season in first place with an 8-1 record, one game ahead of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, and two games ahead of Wisconsin.
“Our guys appreciate winning,” Crean said. “They appreciate the task that is. Our older guys have been through so many hard times that they appreciate it more. Our younger guys — Yogi Ferrell, Cody Zeller, Remy Abell — were raised on winning. That helps.”
It also helps to have somebody like Zeller, the Big Ten player of the week along with Michigan's Trey Burke. Zeller averaged 19.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in victories over Purdue and Michigan. It's his second career conference player of the week award.
Purdue's A.J. Hammons won the conference freshman of the week award after averaging 24.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks against IU and Northwestern.
While Crean congratulated the winners, he wondered why his own freshman, point guard Yogi Ferrell, has yet to be honored by the Big Ten. In his last four games he's averaged 12.8 points and 3.3 assists. Against Purdue and Michigan he averaged 12.5 points and 4.0 assists while making 5 of 8 three-pointers.
“I'm curious as to what Yogi Ferrell has to do in a week to be part of the freshman of the week conversation,” Crean said. “He had a tremendous week as did our team in winning three games.”
Up nextTipoff: Indiana at Illinois, 7 p.m. Thursday
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