Tipoff: Indiana vs. Wisconsin, Big Ten tourney semifinals,1:40 p.m. today
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CHICAGO, Ill. -- Indiana gets to play Wisconsin in today's Big Ten tourney semifinal showdown.
You can hear a collective groan all across Hoosier Nation.
The Badgers (22-10) are kryptonite for the 21st Century brand of speed basketball. They slow games to a 1950s pace and if you don't like it, beat it.
Indiana (27-5) has tried 11 straight times to do that, the last nine under coach Tom Crean. The Hoosiers are 0-for-11.
That's not a surprise. Michigan coach John Beilein is 1-11 against these guys after Friday's 68-59 Big Ten tourney quarterfinal defeat at the United Center. Bo Ryan didn't get to be Big Ten coach of the year -- his third such honor -- because of a conspiracy against Crean.
Yes, some might see darker forces at work, but let's let stay with what we know, which is that Ryan wins more with less than anybody in America, and he's proved it for the last 29 years (a 672-214 career record).
Does that mean Ryan has a lineup full of stiffs? Absolutely not. Players such as Traevon Jackson, Jared Berggren and Mike Brusewitz are good, and if they didn't arrive in Madison with five-star accolades, it doesn't mean they can't play.
“When the guys come in, I take those little stars you lick, and I put post four and five stars on each locker,” Ryan joked. “I say, 'Hey, you're a four-star guy, a five-star guy.'”
And then he stopped joking.
“It's what that star shines like when you finish your career that matters. I'm looking for guys -- who have talent -- who are willing to work hard. It's about us, not individuals. If you're good, you get to do a lot of things.
“I don't want to sell my players short. I've got good players who are much better as a result of playing together.”
As for Ryan's explanation for the success against Indiana, he feigned ignorance. He wasn't about to provide bulletin board fodder
“I don't know about anything that you're talking about,” he said. “What would I know about that? I don't listen to anything. I don't go to anything. You're looking at a guy who looks at film with the sound down. When they do tapes for me, DVDs, there's no sound. I don't think about those kinds of things. I never have.”
Do you buy that?
We didn't think so.
Anyway, consider this game as a test to determine who really deserved the Big Ten's best coach award.
As for what really matters …
A Cream 'n Crimson pessimist would brace for the worst on Saturday, but these full-throttle Hoosiers seem made of tougher stuff. They are steeled by that Wisconsin loss and by the February shocker at Illinois, and then the heart-in-the-throat victory at Michigan. They throttled Illinois in Friday's Big Ten tourney rematch 80-64 behind Cody Zeller's can-you-believe-he-runs-that-well 25 points and nine rebounds. They are the only ones to have beaten Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan on the road.
All three, by the way, are top-10 teams capable of making a Final Four run.
Against Wisconsin, IU will run when it can, pound it inside when it can't. It needs fierce half-court execution, which basically means hitting shots. Specifically, it must thrive in the paint, and the way forward Cody Zeller is playing (25.0 points, 9.5 rebounds in his last two games), look for good things there.
It will come down to which team can assert its will on the other. That will start with the opening tip.
The Hoosiers understand that.
“We love to push the ball,” guard Jordan Hulls said. “That's when we're at our best -- getting defensive stops and getting in transition. We've got Cody on the floor. We've got guys spotting up for threes. That's good offense for us.”
It's great offense for point guard Yogi Ferrell, who was recruited to direct this kind of attack.
“We want to push the ball, especially when we get a defensive rebound. We want to get the ball up the court as fast as we can, and find our outlets.”
IU almost certainly doesn't need to beat Wisconsin to lock up a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed, but it wouldn't hurt. You won't hear that from the Hoosiers, who stick to their public resolve not to get too far ahead of themselves.
“We take each game one at a time,” Ferrell said as if revealing the location of the Fountain of Youth. “If we do that, we can go far.”
There's no Hoosier groaning about that.