In all likelihood, Indiana will once again be ranked No. 1 when the new polls come out today.
The Hoosiers insist that being No. 1 at this point in the season is not a driving force.
“We were picked No. 1 back in April; we hadn’t done anything,” Tom Crean said after the Hoosiers’ 81-73 win over No. 1 Michigan on Saturday night. “And all of a sudden when you lose, it’s like, ‘Well, how did you lose? We picked you No. 1.’
“That’s not what [our players] play for.”
Not that the Hoosiers don’t appreciate the accomplishment.
“We started [No. 1] and we’ve had a hard road getting back there,” Victor Oladipo said.
The Hoosiers (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten) fell out of the top spot in both The Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls on Dec. 17, two days after an 88-86 overtime loss to Butler in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.
“Were we any worse because we lost by two? We didn’t play that great that day, but it wasn’t like the sky was falling,” Crean said. “And we had to come in here and make sure that they understood that.”
The Hoosiers answered their first loss with six straight victories before falling to Wisconsin, 64-59, on Jan. 15. Again, they’ve answered, this time with five straight wins, capped by the defeat of Michigan.
It’s the second straight season Indiana has defeated the No. 1 team in the country — lest anyone forget the victory over Kentucky last season. It’s the first time since the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons that IU has knocked off the No. 1 team in consecutive seasons.
And with Kansas’ loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday — the Jayhawks were No. 2 in the AP poll and No. 1 in the coaches’ poll last week — IU is almost certainly going to be No. 1 today.
But there’s always room to improve.
The Hoosiers made their first six shots from the field and 11 of their first 13 in building a 28-13 lead over the Wolverines (20-2, 7-2). But turnovers — 16 to Michigan’s 8 — and colder shooting almost did Indiana in.
IU made just three of its final 13 shots from the floor in the first half as Michigan pulled within 36-32 at halftime. And the Wolverines tied the game at 40 before an 11-0 Hoosiers run helped pad an ultimately insurmountable lead.
“I think our players did a good job of battling through their runs and executing down the stretch and that’s the reason why we won,” Oladipo said.
“Part of their offense early was our offense,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They gave us a couple of looks that we had to adjust to, and we did not show great discipline at times. As a result, all of a sudden you get buried.”
At 20-2, this team is off to the best start for an IU squad since the 1992-93 team that finished 31-4. And at the midpoint of the Big Ten schedule, the Hoosiers are in line for the top seed in the conference tournament.
But it’s going to take continued success on the road, where Indiana is undefeated this season. But those four wins came against teams all in the bottom half of the conference standings.
The Hoosiers still have five conference road games to go, including Thursday at Illinois and Sunday at Ohio State. There are also consecutive games at Michigan State and Minnesota on Feb. 19 and 26, and the regular-season finale at Michigan.
“Let’s hope when we meet at the end of the year that we are all playing for something really big,” Crean said.