CHICAGO – This tournament isn’t like those of the past. For one thing, its location.
Instead of a short 50 minute bus ride from Bloomington to the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers had a flight then a bus ride to get to the Downtown Chicago Marriott on Thursday evening.
Once they braved the traffic on the Kennedy Expressway, the had about 18 hours to get ready for a different kind of pressure: A number one seed. In three of the last four seasons the Hoosiers were the 11th seed and were still considered a dark horse when they improved their seeding a year ago.
But as the team got off the bus for quick rest before facing eighth-seeded Illinois on Friday at 12 P.M. EST, they squad was happy to embrace the pressure that comes with being a favorite.
“Taking it one game at a time,” said senior guard Jordan Hulls of the expectations. “Go out there, like you said, take care of business.”
Doing so will come with a little motivation for the Hoosiers considering the last time they faced off with the Illini. On February 7th the Hoosiers were knocked off by Illinois in Champaign when Tyler Griffey got his way behind the Hoosiers’ defense and put in the winning lay-up at the horn for a 74-72 Illini win.
“For us, it’s going to be a great match-up. For them it’s going to be a good game so we’re excited for it,” said Hulls. “They beat us last time and we just have to make sure we go out and change some things up and get better from the last time we played them.”
That will be protecting the lead late since the Hoosiers led by double digits in the second half against the Illini before taking the last second loss. John Groce’s team proved its late game savvy in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament against ninth-seeded Minnesota. With the game tied, Brandon Paul hit a fadeaway jumper as time expired to give Illinois a 51-49 win and advance to face the Hoosiers again.
“For us on the defensive end, we’ve got to keep our chest in front of the ball and we’ve got to keep communication high,” said Crean in a statement released by the school. “You’ve got to have that commitment to what makes you good, which for us is early help, early recovery, and understanding what their strengths are, which is their three-point shooting.”
“When you’re going against great talent, which this tournament is full of, you’ve got to stay engaged for 40 minutes. We have had a good week of practice and like I said last week, everything is a one-game season from here on out. That’s how we are preparing.”