How the Indiana Hoosiers Can Break into the Top 10

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How the Indiana Hoosiers Can Break into the Top 10
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Cody Zeller throws down a dunk in a thrilling 73-72 upset over the then #1 Kentucky Wildcats.

The Indiana Hoosiers are entering Big Ten play with a record of 12-0. They are currently ranked No. 17.

But how do they now continue to improve on that ranking, and how likely is it that they break into the top 10?

To answer these questions, let's take a look at Indiana's next three games. Indiana faces ranked opponents in each of their first three conference matchups.

The Hoosiers (12-0) play their first conference game at No. 19 Michigan State (11-2).

Coach Tom Izzo always has his Spartans playing tough, so this is going to be a major test for a very young Indiana squad.

The Hoosiers undoubtedly will be a little jittery and nervous, and Sparty will most likely come out firing on all cylinders, since they have played in a lot of big games like this already this year. What will decide this game is how well Indiana bounces back from the deficit they will most likely fall into early on.

Indiana will need to find a way to answer to the onslaught of F Draymond Green, Michigan State's leading scorer, rebounder, and passer. If Christian Watford can contain Green, then this should pretty much be the Cody Zeller-and-Jordan Hulls show.

That said, Indiana should be able to pull this one out by single digits and advance to 13-0, most likely moving them up to about No. 15 in the rankings.

Indiana then hosts the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1).

This will be a game that should show exactly how good this Indiana team is and how big of an impact Zeller can make for this team.

This game will almost solely depend on how well Zeller can contain the monster known as Jared Sullinger. Sullinger is going to touch the ball a lot right away in this game. Coach Thad Matta will undoubtedly design a few plays to give the ball to Sullinger early and often in order to get Zeller in foul trouble and off the court.

If the Buckeyes can succeed in keeping Zeller off the court for a good chunk of time, this is going to put Coach Crean in quite a tough spot. This would put either Christian Watford or Tom Pritchard at center, which would be far from an ideal situation.

The key for Indiana in this matchup is to focus on breaking down Sullinger and getting him off the floor.

Containing Aaron Craft is going to be another huge key. If Coach Crean puts Victor Oladipo on Craft, that should do the trick. Oladipo should match up pretty well with his speed and defensive intensity.

Overall, it seems that Indiana actually matches up much better with Ohio State than most people think. Crean should be able to walk away with this win as long as Sullinger and Craft are held to fairly low point totals.

If Indiana can walk away with a win here, that could easily bump the Hoosiers to the No. 10 spot.

In the third conference matchup, Indiana hosts the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines (10-2).

If Indiana has managed to beat Michigan State and Ohio State before this game, they will be undoubtedly tired, but, more importantly, they will be motivated and confident.

However, the Wolverines are a bit more spread out talent wise; they have role players more than they have superstars.

This will be a bit different from the looks Indiana will get from MSU and OSU, as each of those teams has more defined superstars who will take charge each game.

Michigan has the same style as Indiana, meaning that anyone could step up and have a big game at any time. The Hoosiers should be able to match up pretty well against this team, though, as the Wolverines lack the depth of a very deep Indiana team.

This is going to be a game in which most of the starters will almost cancel each other out, and someone will have to rise above and take charge for his team.

If they are healthy by this time, this is a game in which a Derek Elston or a Will Sheehey will most likely step in and hit some big shots down the stretch to bring in the W for Indiana at Assembly Hall.

This win would most likely move Indiana to somewhere around No. 9 or No. 8, depending on how other top 10 teams fare that particular day.

These first three Big Ten battles should set the tone for the rest of the season for Coach Tom Crean's young squad.

This Indiana team seems to have no limits right now, after beating then-No. 1 Kentucky with Christian Watford's buzzer-beating three-pointer.

The key to finding that ceiling for the Cream and Crimson is going to be how they fare against these ranked opponents early in conference play.

Indiana definitely is in a position in which they can and will control their own destiny and their own outcome. With how well they have played through the first 12 games, Indiana should play with quite a bit of swagger through the rest of the season if they can manage to fight through these first three games and walk away still undefeated.

If they can stay motivated and dedicated, this Indiana team has plenty of potential to make a conference-championship run and carry some momentum into the NCAA tournament.

The only thing yet to be proven by the Hoosiers thus far is how they deal with the adversity of losing games. That is going to be a crucial piece that will decide how well this crew fares throughout the rest of the regular season and potentially into the tournament.

If Indiana wins these first three games, they will undoubtedly set a tone for the rest of the season that should only add to their newfound confidence this season.

This confidence will be key when it comes time for the conference and NCAA tournaments.

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