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Indiana wins Big Ten

The Indiana Hoosiers were once one of the big powers in men’s college basketball. The 1975-76 squad is the last to ever go undefeated for the entire season, something that the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats almost did before losing in the Final Four to the Wisconsin Badgers.

In recent season, however, head coach Tom Crean has the program competitive yet underwhelming. The Hoosiers have reached the NCAA Tournament three of the last four seasons, but has not been able to advance past the Sweet 16. It is a sore subject with those in Bloomington, who watched Bob Knight win three national championships and 11 conference titles.

Finally, Indiana appears to at least be in the conversation as a favorite to be cutting down the nets when all is set and done. The Hoosiers are ranked No. 12 in the country and defeated the No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes, clinching the Big Ten regular season title. Indiana is 24-6 overall and 14-3 within the Big Ten, and is now primed to take on the conference tourney with the top seed.

Looking at the roster, it becomes clear that guard Yogi Ferrell is not only the best player on the team, but could be the best player in the Big Ten. The senior guard out of Indianapolis is averaging a team-high 17.0 points with 5.5 assists per game. James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams and Thomas Bryant are also averaging in double figures, with Williams and Bryant combining for 11.6 rebounds per game.

Yet, all the regular-season success means very little to a school and fan base that is used to being at the top. The Hoosiers are not quite at the top of the rankings, but this is a year when a bevy of teams could break out in the tournament and pull out a championship. Indiana has the talent to compete with anybody in the nation, as evidenced by wins against the Hawkeyes twice and a victory against the Purdue Boilermakers. The schedule has not been incredibly challenging, but the resume remains solid.

Indiana will have one final tuneup against the Maryland Terrapins on March 6 before going into the conference tourney. After that, March Madness will begin and Crean will be under the spotlight, with everyone in the Midwest on out looking for major success. Without it, Crean and his staff will start to be on the hot seat.

Should the Hoosiers go the distance, it will be on the back of Ferrell. He’s the kind of player who can rise to the occasion a la Kemba Walker and Gerry McNamara. He will have to step up and show the toughness and guile of a senior for himself, his team and for Crean.

In a few weeks, Indiana will be on the floor with all the pressure of expectations that have crushed it in the past.

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