Big Ten

From Maui face plant to Sweet Sixteen, Hoosiers have come a long way


From Maui face plant to Sweet Sixteen, Hoosiers have come a long way

If you've been following along this entire college basketball season, you'll appreciate just how big an achievement it is that Indiana is heading to the Sweet Sixteen.

The Hoosiers looked terrific in a mighty entertaining 73-67 win over longtime rival Kentucky on Saturday in Des Moines, getting sensational performances from senior point guard Yogi Ferrell and freshman big man Thomas Bryant. Even without their usual high-flying, 3-point-splashing antics, the Hoosiers found a way to win, a testament to head coach Tom Crean.

Indiana toppled a team that at one point was the No. 1 team in the country. Not a bad way to punch a ticket to the first alliterative round of the NCAA tournament.

“We're obviously elated to win a game of this magnitude, not just because it's the NCAA tournament and the Round of 32 but because it's against such a great program," Crean said. "We've got a lot of respect for Kentucky, obviously got a lot of respect for John (Calipari) and admiration for how he coaches and what he does. That team was every bit as good as what we thought they were from watching them on film.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Hoosiers take down rival Kentucky, advance to Sweet Sixteen]

But the biggest deal of all is that the Hoosiers were even in this position to begin with.

Despite an offseason that featured more of the off-the-court issues that have earned Crean plenty of heat the past few seasons, there were big expectations at the start of the campaign. Indiana was tabbed as one of the Big Ten's best. But all of that crumbled thanks to a rocky start to the season, particularly two embarrassing losses at the Maui Invitational to Wake Forest and UNLV. A nationally televised pounding at Duke didn't help.

The Hoosiers rallied after that loss to Duke, winning their final five non-conference games and their first seven games of the Big Ten season, making for a 12-game winning streak. But even that long winning stretch didn't seem to appease critics, who thought an easy schedule had more to do with Indiana's success than a transformation from the early season. And it's true that nine games into an 8-1 start to the conference schedule, Indiana played just one team that ended up making the NCAA tournament, splitting a pair of contests with Wisconsin.

But the Hoosiers were winning in a way that made it seem like they were dangerous regardless of who they were playing. Indiana scored a ton of points, buried teams in a hurry and hit a school-record number of 3-pointers. Not to mention that Ferrell looked like one of the best players of the country and Bryant and OG Anunoby were emerging as talented freshmen. A mid-February win over then-top-five Iowa signaled the Hoosiers were legit. That status was cemented with a five-game winning streak to end the regular season that featured three wins over ranked teams. The Hoosiers were the regular-season conference champs.

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans' season, Denzel Valentine's career end in unbelievable fashion]

Of course, things weren't always pretty for Indiana, and the Big Ten Tournament was the height of why doubters still existed, as the Hoosiers bowed out in their first game with an upset loss to Michigan.

But after all that, Indiana is still dancing. Do people think the Hoosiers are for real now? It really doesn't matter because March marches on and they're still standing.

“To see us in this position now to get such a great win is very promising for us," Ferrell said. "I feel like we've come a long way. I feel like we all believed in each other. This is a player-driven program, and we get on each other, we hold each other accountable. We take criticism, and we give criticism. I think that's our biggest advantage is, you know, we're very connected and when we are connected we can go a long way.”

“I love coaching them, and I know that sounds corny but I just love coaching them. It's not just because of December. It's the way they responded in the spring and the summer. We went through a few issues here and there, and they responded to all of that. We were getting better in December, even though we didn't play that way all the time," Crean said. "I knew we could be a good team. I think if I didn't believe we could be a good team, I don't think they would have ever bought into me the way that we were pushing them to be a great team. So I think we're going to get better. I know it's late in the year, but I think we can continue to get better.

"Long story short, they've responded all year to getting better. They've responded to success. They've responded to adversity. The more they're doubted, the better they are. There was no choice for this team in November and December to bond together in a very high way, a very big way based on the criticism that was out there, on us. They learned a lot about themselves. They learned a lot about controlling what you can control. They learned a lot about pushing each other even more. They learned about turning it up, turning the intensity level up, concentration and focus, and that's we've got to continue to do.”

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Hoosiers gear right here]

For Crean, in particular, this NCAA tournament run is mighty redemptive — if not in his own mind, in the minds of fans and observers. After earning a No. 1 seed in the tourney a few years back, the Hoosiers missed the Big Dance in 2014 and snuck in on the right side of the bubble last season before losing in the Round of 64. The on-court struggles, if you want to view them as such, were compounded by a rash of off-court issues that ended in multiple players being dismissed from the program. That includes both players involved in a car accident where one hit the other after he exited the vehicle, winding up in the hospital for months.

When those losses in Maui happened early in the season, the "fire Crean" voices became louder than ever. But then came a Big Ten championship. And Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. Now Crean is a win away from advancing as far as an Indiana team has during his tenure.

“I feel like coach Crean has stayed on us throughout this entire year," Ferrell said. "He saw our potential, and when we had a rough start he stuck with us and he kept getting on us every single day just because he saw the greatness in us."

Both Crean and Ferrell said after Saturday's game that this team can still get better as the tournament progresses. Of course, that's going to be quite the challenge with No. 1-seed North Carolina waiting next.

But Saturday's game showed the Hoosiers can play with anyone, even on nights when the usual formula isn't working. And with how different this team looks now from what it looked like in Maui, you've got no choice to believe they can keep getting better all the way Houston.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?