For all of the success that the Indiana Men's Basketball program his accrued throughout its history, the Big Ten Tournament has been the lone hill the Hoosiers have yet to claim. 18 previous tries, with just one appearance in the finals, and no title to show for it.
The good news for Indiana is that the bracket, much like the regular season conference schedule, sets up favorably. Not a single team in the top half of the bracket has defeated the Hoosiers this season. The Michigan State Spartans, Wisconsin Badgers, and Penn State Nittany Lions, being the three teams to take down the champions this season, would only see the Hoosiers on Selection Sunday.
The downside to this is that Indiana will likely face either the Purdue Boilermakers and Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday in the semi-finals, and in Iowa's case, beating a good quality team three times in one season is never an easy task. Certainly both teams would revel in the chance to exact revenge on the Hoosiers.
Indiana certainly took advantage of its home court this season, going a perfect 17-0 at Assembly Hall, and will hope to have a little slice of home just 60 miles north at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. If the hike in ticket prices for this weekend is any indication, expect the 18,000-plus seating to be covered in cream and crimson. Friday's morning session should be a great time, with both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers in action. Expect a lot of "IU Sucks" chants from the Purdue conglomerate, even when the IU game is over and the Boilermakers are on the floor. It'll be great.
The Hoosiers enter the tournament with momentum on their side, riding a five-game winning streak. The tournament represents an opportunity for the Hoosiers to completely catch fire before next week's NCAA Tournament and could become a favorite to make a run.
Indiana has been showered in awards over the past couple of days, with Tom Crean being named Big Ten Coach of the Year, and Yogi Ferrell, Thomas Bryant, Troy Williams earning All-Big Ten honors, and Thomas Bielfeldt being given the Sixth Man of the Year award in conference.
The Hoosiers have quite a bit to play for this week in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding. There are some folks who have the lofty dream of Indiana playing their way into a 1-seed, but that seems like a big reach given how the Hoosiers' non-conference performance will come back in the selection room. More realistically, Indiana can play its way onto the 2-line Sunday, especially since the Big Ten final happens so close to the bracket reveal. Simply winning Friday and Saturday could accomplish this.
The Hoosiers have had health issues of late, a few players have suffered from illness over the past couple of weeks, prominently Collin Hartman and Bielfeldt. Robert Johnson missed the final games of the regular season due to a high-ankle sprain, and Crean and staff are keeping tight-lipped on whether he will be back for the tournament, though the feeling is optimistic. It will be interesting to see how Johnson's minutes are managed this week if he does return. Additionally, freshman Juwan Morgan re-injured his shoulder against Maryland and it is hard to imagine he'll play this week.
The Hoosiers enter the tournament with the largest target on their back being the conference champions. This week could serve as redemption for the disaster that was the Maui Invitational and give Hoosier Nation hope for a deep NCAA run.