The Indiana Hoosiers welcome Ohio State to Assembly Hall on Tuesday night with a chance to clinch the Big Ten title.
After Indiana, the conference standings are a jumbled mess. The Buckeyes are part of a four-way tie for second with Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Tom Crean will undoubtedly have his squad motivated to win and avoid joining that crowd.
As for the Buckeyes, last week’s victory over Michigan State finally gave their resume a second win against a ranked team.
However, coming up victorious in a marquee road game is something that is still missing.
Read on to see five subplots in this Big Ten battle beyond what it means for the 2012-13 standings.
The Big Ten is loaded with potential All-Americans, and three of them will be on display in Bloomington this Tuesday.
Cody Zeller was the preseason favorite to take home the Big Ten Player of the Year award, but his teammate Victor Oladipo has seized control of the race.
Tuesday night presents Indiana’s stars with yet another nationally televised opportunity to showcase their talents to the college basketball world. Last time these two teams met up, Oladipo stole the show with 26 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
A repeat performance would possibly lock up the award.
Then there’s the Big Ten’s leading scorer Deshaun Thomas of Ohio State. He is a long shot for the conference MVP, but if he somehow carries his team to an upset win with a tremendous night, he would at least have to be included in the discussion.
Aaron Craft and Victor Oladipo are arguably the two best backcourt defenders in America, and they will be battling it out on a national stage Tuesday night.
The voters for the Big Ten (and possibly national) Defensive Player of the Year award will undoubtedly have an eye on the proceedings. Craft leads the Buckeyes with just under two steals a game, while Oladipo is averaging 2.3 thefts per contest.
However, the statistics do not begin to quantify the impact each of these players have on the defensive side of the ball.
Craft draws charges, pesters opposing ball handlers and has the ability to take the point guard right out of the game plan. Just ask Keith Appling how last week’s game went.
Oladipo hunts down transitions on defense better than anyone this side of LeBron James, which often results in blocked shots (nearly one a game). It also leaves a mental mark on the opposition and alters fast breaks so easy scoring opportunities are erased.
Fans who love defense will be in for a treat when Craft and Oladipo square off.
Gonzaga may be No. 1 in the country right now, which is a great story, but Indiana still controls its destiny for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Hoosiers will close the season with Ohio State and a trip to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan. If they get wins against each of these Top 14 squads and navigate themselves through the treacherous and demanding Big Ten tournament, there is little doubt who would have the strongest claim for that top seed.
The overall No. 1 seed in the tournament would also keep Indiana closer to home as March Madness continues. The Hoosier Faithful are some of the most loyal fans in all of college basketball, and if they were given an opportunity to pack an arena for the Big Dance, they certainly would.
The overall No. 1 seed doesn’t guarantee a successful tournament run, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt Indiana’s chances either.
Indiana has the inside track for the outright Big Ten title and No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, but the race for the second spot is arguably more intriguing.
Ohio State is part of a four-way tie for second place in the conference standings along with Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Interestingly enough, the Buckeyes split two games with each of those teams, which makes tiebreaking scenarios a nice little headache for everyone.
With the Big Ten as strong as it is this season, claiming a favorable seed for the conference tournament in Chicago is a must if one of these squads wants to take home the trophy. The top-four seeds receive a first round bye, and the No. 2 and 3 seeds avoid playing a team currently in the top-five standings until at least the semifinals.
Even if a Big Ten regular season championship isn’t in the cards for the Scarlet and Gray, a win in Bloomington would go a long way toward seeding in the Big Ten tournament.
Of course, that is much easier said than done.
Ohio State has won a share of three straight Big Ten regular season titles, as well as five of the past seven. During that stretch, Thad Matta has led the Buckeyes to two Final Four appearances and steered the program to arguably its most successful stretch since the 1960s.
He has also dominated Indiana recently, but much of that is because the Hoosiers have gradually been recovering from the Kelvin Sampson fiasco. With the direction Tom Crean has the program headed now, nobody is likely to be dominating the Hoosiers for the foreseeable future.
If Indiana does beat Ohio State for the second time this year, it will be a symbolic passing of the torch from the program that has dominated the Big Ten recently to the one that appears primed to do so for the coming years.
Making it more fitting, it would clinch the outright conference crown for the Hoosiers and prevent the Buckeyes from earning a trophy for the first time since Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas were high-school students.