MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Hoosiers took a long, hard road to winning the Big Ten title.
If they’re going to win the tournament title, they’ll also need to rest.
Two months after being discounted, overlooked and forgotten by many outsiders, the 10th-ranked Hoosiers head to Indianapolis with the top seed and a chance to change directions in what has been a frustrating event for Indiana. The 2016 tourney opens with two games Wednesday.
“The main thing playing three games in three days is rest,” first-team all-Big Ten guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell said. “You’ve got to get your feet up, you’ve got to get treatment and if you win one, you’ve got to get right on to the next one.”
The good news is that Indiana (25-6) is playing as well as it has all season and it won’t play until Friday.
Last week, the Hoosiers won at No. 16 Iowa to clinch the league’s outright title and routed No. 14 Maryland at home to complete their first unbeaten season at Assembly Hall since 2006-07. Plus, they’ll take a five-game winning streak with them to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
So why is their consternation throughout the Hoosier State?
Indiana is 11-18 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament, has never won the title, has only played in one championship game (2001) and has only one semifinal appearance since 2007.
The road this year isn’t any easier. After a double bye into the quarterfinals, the Hoosiers face either eighth-seeded Michigan or ninth-seeded Northwestern, and then face a possible rematch with No. 13 Purdue. A win there could set up a championship game showdown with No. 2 Michigan State.
Indiana isn’t the only favorite who has had trouble in this event.
No. 20 Iowa hasn’t played in the semifinals since 2006.
“To me, it’s going to be harder to move on into the Big Ten tournament than it might be to move on into the NCAA tournament,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “So I think you’ve got to stay focused on the little things. Your defense still has to be there and you’re preparation, I think the team that plays on Thursday has a definite advantage.”
Iowa will play on Thursday.
Indiana won’t. But the Hoosiers are looking at this week a little differently.
“People think if you’ve won the Big Ten, you can relax,” said forward Max Bielfeldt, who played on Michigan’s conference tourney runner-up team in 2014. “We’ve got to be aggressive. We’ve got to be the team that we are.”
And hope that’s good enough.
Here are some other things to watch during this week’s tourney:
DEUCES WILD: Clearly, the poll voters don’t buy into the notion that Michigan State is the second best team in Indy. The second-ranked Spartans and Big Ten regular-season runner-ups wound up with the No. 2 seed. But in the only meeting between the league’s top two teams this season, Michigan State ran away with an 88-69 victory over Indiana. A rematch in Sunday’s title game might be the best matchup this weekend.
PARING DOWN: The tournament begins with five ranked teams and presumably one more that looks to get an invite to the NCAA’s field of 68. But the results between Thursday and Sunday could determine who’s in and who’s out and probably seeding. Michigan and Ohio State may have the most at stake since they’re still trying to play their way in.
JUMP START: A couple of weeks ago, it looked like the regular-season title race would be between Maryland and Iowa. Over the past few weeks, things changed dramatically. The Terrapins have lost four of six while the Hawkeyes have lost four of five. Both teams need to find solutions now before the same problems derail them in the NCAA tourney.
CAT SCRATCH FEVER: Northwestern might not be everyone’s favorite but it’s hard to root against a team still looking for its first NCAA bid. After a strong start this season, it looks like the only way they can get in this season is by winning four games in four days.
THE HOT SEAT: For struggling teams, this could be the final chance for coaches to save their jobs. In past years, some coaches whose teams underperform and then make early exits don’t even survive till Sunday. Who could be the first to go this year? Perhaps Eddie Jordan of Rutgers.
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