Indiana Basketball: Battle with Michigan Wolverines More Than Just Big Ten Title

Eric SmithCorrespondent IIIJanuary 9, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, IN - JANUARY 05:  Cody Zeller #40 of the Indiana Hoosiers grabs a rebound during the Big Ten Conference game against the Michigan Wolverines at Assembly Hall on January 5, 2012 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan Wolverines are undoubtedly going to have a fierce battle for the Big Ten conference's regular-season title. Both teams were heavily favored to finish in the top two spots and should finish there after their season finale on March 10th.

The Hoosiers were ranked No. 1 entering the season and held onto that spot all the way up to their December 15th overtime loss to the Butler Bulldogs. Many outside of Indiana don't understand how deep and talented this team really is and have been using that loss to say how much they thought Indiana was overrated.

Michigan was one of the beneficiaries of that loss to Butler, as it moved up a spot in the polls to No. 2 right now, behind Duke and sit undefeated at 15-0 entering Wednesday night's contest with Nebraska at home.

Where the battle for the top spot gets more significant is with the question of who will likely snag one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament in March? The winner of the conference will likely get one of the top seeds and be seeded in the Indianapolis region.

For Indiana, that's more significant than ever, as the Hoosiers would love to play just over 60 miles from their campus in Bloomington and have a home-court advantage. Although they'd never admit it, the NCAA would also likely prefer for the Hoosiers to be seeded in Indianapolis due to the impact it would draw.

The NCAA headquarters is located in downtown Indianapolis and is literally just steps away from Lucas Oil Stadium where the Midwest Region's Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be played. They know the impact of ticket and memorabilia sales that will be strongly impacted by the Hoosiers playing there.

Right now, Michigan would more than likely be seeded as the team playing in Lucas Oil in March. As someone living in Indianapolis and seeing the hype and hearing stories, I know tons of people who have already bought tickets for this event with anticipation that Indiana will be playing here in late March. That impact will drop dramatically if the Hoosiers don't and Michigan does.

If Indiana indeed does make it as a top seed playing in the Midwest Region, look for Lucas Oil Stadium to be sold out and tickets on the secondary market to go for big amounts. For example, the Michigan at Indiana game in Assembly Hall in February has tickets going for $300 and above. Most tickets are well north of $500. The sad thing is people will pay that to see the Hoosiers play.

Imagine how much they'd pay for a ticket to sold-out Lucas Oil Stadium to see the Hoosiers play in the Sweet 16 and possibly again in the Elite Eight. The Hoosiers have never played in the state of Indiana with a trip to the Final Four on the line. This would be so huge that multiple people who I've interviewed said an Elite Eight game in Indianapolis with Indiana playing would be the biggest event ever in Lucas Oil Stadium.

I honestly believe them.

Indiana is a rich basketball state, and the Hoosiers have always been so loved it was a lifestyle. Even when they were struggling to win 10 games, fans still packed Assembly Hall and stuck by their Hoosiers. They grew so complacent under the Bobby Knight regime that they knew a tournament berth in March was a given.

After that brief down period which hit rock bottom, the hype is back and people have vowed to enjoy the ride as long as it lasts. These players and coaches are treated like rock stars here. A chance to see them go to the Final Four for the first time since 2002 and have the best shot at a national title since 1987 would be huge.

Yes, Lucas Oil Stadium has hosted an AFC Championship Game, Super Bowl and an epic Final Four that came down to the final buzzer with hometown Butler playing in it. Again, to those outside of Indiana, it may not make seem that an Elite Eight game would be bigger than those combined, but it honestly will.

Assembly Hall was recently voted as the toughest venue in the nation to play in. Everyone keeps talking about how raucous it is and how difficult it is for opposing teams to play there. That same home-court advantage will be in Indianapolis in March.

If Michigan is here, nothing above of the 300 level will be filled. For those of you who aren't aware of the seating arrangements of Lucas Oil Stadium, 100 level is lower level, 200 level is the next level above, there are suites just below the 300 level, then the 300 level. Above that are the 400-600 levels. I don't think a soul sits up there, as there won't be enough people to fill it.

If Indiana is here, all those seats will be filled to the rafters as standing room only will take place.

The Hoosiers have a much easier schedule before their February 2nd matchup with the Wolverines and need to really win out until then. They definitely need to win that game. The importance is so great. The team, city and NCAA need the Hoosiers to win the Big Ten this year.