Good news, Big Ten fans—the 2012 Big Ten tournament stands primed to deliver the goods.
With five conference members currently listed in the AP Top 25, the Big Ten can take pride in the fact that it will be well-represented in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
While most people will be anxious to see heavy-hitters Ohio State and Michigan State take the floor, those of us who are more upset-minded will be looking to the Indiana Hoosiers to shake things up a bit.
It's not as if Indiana is at the bottom of the Big Ten barrel. In fact, that's hardly the case.
The Hoosiers have been absolutely terrific this year at home, going 18-1 in Bloomington. Clearly, the sixth man is alive and well in Hoosier country. This also bodes well for Indiana, considering the short trip up the road they'll make to Indianapolis for tournament play.
There's no question some of the more fervent fan bases amongst the Big Ten ilk travel incredibly well, but Hoosier nation should have the best showing in Indianapolis. Numbers, as is often the case, will matter.
This is especially good news for Indiana, given the quality of competition they'll come up against during their stay in Indy.
Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State are the clear front-runners in the Big Ten this year. Nothing surprising there, though it is important to note that Indiana has split its season series with all three of these teams. That type of statistic would suggest parity is alive and well in one of college's toughest leagues.
What really stands out, though, has been the play of freshman Cody Zeller.
He's been nothing short of phenomenal in his first year in the red and white. There's no denying that Zeller has made in an indelible mark on the Big Ten this year.
The million dollar question, though, is, can Zeller can sustain his high level of play throughout the conference tournament and on into the NCAA tournament? If I had to venture a guess, I would vote 'yes.'
Zeller is a composed, patient player who exhibits control indicative of a more seasoned upperclassmen. He's also athletic and can convert difficult plays in traffic. It's his youth and inexperience, though, that a team like Wisconsin will look to expose.
Wisconsin has capitalized on this before.
Indeed, it will be Indiana's match-up against fifth-seeded Wisconsin that will prove the most difficult test of Indiana's Big Ten tournament appearance. If Zeller can manage to establish a post presence and improve on his 2-for-7 shooting performance from the first time around, Indiana should be able to pull a small upset over Wisconsin.
Of course, Sparty is next in line after the Badgers and Tom Izzo, and he will be looking for a little payback after a disappointing 15-point loss on February 28th. It'll be more of the same for Indiana here as Cody Zeller will once again have to win the post battle against Michigan State's aggressive bigs from start to finish.
The sixth man should also play a big hand in this one and help push Indiana past Tom Izzo and the No. 5 Spartans.
All roads will likely lead to juggernaut Ohio State. If and when that happens, I expect Indiana to pull the upset.
Tom Crean has revived this Hoosier squad and pulled off some remarkable victories this year.
While Zeller is soaking up the majority of the spotlight, four different Hoosiers have averaged double figures for the season. Two of those players, Jordan Hulls and Christan Watford, are shooting above 40 percent from behind the arc.
That's team chemistry, folks.
What's bigger is the fact that Indiana has won seven of eight heading into the Big Ten tournament. They're riding a hot streak, and the folks in Bloomington are on cloud nine. There is no price one can put on momentum—it's value is utterly infinite.
For Indiana, carrying this kind of energy with them into the tournament bodes well for teams that haven't enjoyed a similar string of recent success. Indiana is hungry, not over-confident.
They're here to work, and I expect Tom Crean has made it very clear that this is exactly what needs to happen in order for the Hoosiers to capture their first Big Ten title.
Indiana can also take comfort in the fact that their place in the NCAA tournament is secure.
Sometimes, it's the looking ahead that does a team in, especially if that team is on bubble. Indiana can then narrow its focus to the task at hand, a task which commences on Thursday in Indianapolis.
Indiana needs to just keep riding the wave. If there's anything to be learned from their recent string of wins—unlike some, I do believe you can learn from wins as well as losses—it's that they're capable of beating anyone in the Big Ten.
They've already done it.
It would be wise for Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten favorites to keep this fact in mind.