The NCAA tournament may be less than two weeks away, but March 10 will commence the madness.
When No. 2 Indiana travels to play No. 7 Michigan in Ann Arbor on March 10, there will be more than bragging rights on the line. In fact, the rights to the Big Ten regular-season title will be at stake.
More importantly, a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament could be secured by the winner.
The Hoosiers are currently 25-5 and 13-4 in the Big Ten. They're ranked second in the nation, own six victories against ranked opponents and are widely believed to be the best team in the nation's most powerful conference.
Regardless of what happens against Michigan, they're also guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
Despite losing to No. 14 Ohio State on March 5, the Hoosiers infamously celebrated with the Big Ten championship hardware. This caught flack from the general public, as the outright title had not yet been won.
Point guard Jordan Hulls defended the cutting down of the nets in this ESPN story:
We earned that right. Obviously, we didn't like to lose, but we earned that right to cut down the nets. We would have liked to have won but we couldn't dwell on that.
The celebration is rational—unfortunately, the end goal has not yet been reached.
Fortunately, the Hoosiers are in prime position to secure a top seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. They're the second-ranked team in the nation and a powerhouse in position to secure one more signature win.
Without a win at Michigan, however, the road to a top seed becomes significantly more difficult.
Sweeping the Competition
On Feb. 2, 2013, the Indiana Hoosiers defeated then-No. 1 Michigan by a score of 81-73. Five Hoosiers scored in double figures and Indiana won the rebounding battle by a margin of 14 boards.
More importantly, Indiana added a win that pushed them over the top.
Losing to Michigan on March 10 would not neutralize their ability to secure a No. 1 seed. Indiana still has one of the most impressive resumes in the nation and has a head coach that is respected by the voters.
With that being said, a win over Michigan would all but guarantee a No. 1 seed.
If the Hoosiers were able to sweep a team that is currently competing for the same seeding, they'd significantly bolster their resume. Not only would they be able to compete with any other team in the nation, but they'd have a better collection of victories.
A No. 1 would be all but guaranteed.
Entering the 2012-13 college basketball season, the Indiana Hoosiers were the No. 1 ranked team in the nation. They received 43 of the 65 first-place votes in the AP poll and 21 of the 31 in the USA Today poll.
In other words, the Hoosiers were title favorites.
When it comes to the NCAA tournament, voters are likely to treat them with that same respect. After completing one of the most consistently successful seasons of any major conference school, IU has lived up to its reputation.
A win over Michigan would simply elevate its status.
Indiana is a pre-bracket pick amongst most viewers to make a run for the Final Four. They're also the preseason favorites to win it all.
By defeating the Wolverines, the Hoosiers would cement their status as a title favorite. For that reason, the committee would have no choice but to hand Indiana a top seed.
Let the madness begin.