Big Ten Morning Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 28th, 2012

  1. One coaching vacancy in the Big Ten has been filled as Nebraska welcomed Tim Miles as the newest leader of their basketball program. Miles comes with a solid resume from Colorado State, but some former players have expressed disappointment that the school wasn’t able to get a coach who moved a needle a little more. Miles was able to guide Colorado State to the NCAA Tournament this year, which is something the Huskers were unable to do, but his lack of experience at the helm of a big-time program has given some fans pause knowing that competing in the Big Ten is different than the Mountain West.
  2. Meanwhile, it appears that Illinois will soon have their man, as a deal appears imminent with Ohio head coach and former Ohio State assistant John Groce.  However, since Illinois publicly courted other candidates, including VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens, and came up empty; many who have been following the hiring process are wondering whether becoming the head man of the Illini is still a premiere position. Some have used the term “national embarrassment”, and while I think that is harsh, it is true that Illinois has been publicly rebuffed by a number of candidates.
  3. Michigan State has a storied basketball program, and that has led to the Spartans honoring nine former players by retiring their jersey numbers. Tom Izzo thinks that there should be a tenth jersey hanging from the rafters, and he wants that jersey to belong to Draymond Green. Green was honored as an AP All-Amerian first team member this week, and his leadership off the court and skills on the court certainly would qualify him to join Spartan lore. Izzo has noted that the leadership and chemistry from this team is not lost on the younger players, and State will be looking for a couple of leaders to fill the void left by Green come next season.
  4. With the Final Four back in New Orleans, ESPN.com decided to reminisce about some classic moments when college basketball’s premiere event was held in the Big Easy. Two Big Ten moments made the list, one being Keith Smart’s epic shot against Syracuse in 1987 and the other being Chris Webber‘s infamous timeout against North Carolina in 1993. The best and the worst of the NCAA tournament, both taking place at the same site, six years apart.
  5. Though their NCAA Tournament exit was heartbreaking, Wisconsin gave Syracuse a run for their money, and while senior point guard Jordan Taylor will certainly be missed, the Badgers will bring back four starters from a team that won 26 games this year.  It is never easy to replace a leader at the point guard position, but Wisconsin will return 71% of its scoring and 84% of its rebounding next season. The future looks good in Madison for the Badgers to again be a factor in the Big Ten.
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A Closer Roundtable Look: Indiana vs. Kentucky

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 23rd, 2012

Indiana will face Kentucky Friday night in what is one of the most interesting Sweet Sixteen games in the NCAA tournament.  The Hoosiers handed the Wildcats their only regular season loss back on December 10 thanks to a last-second three by Christian Watford.  In the rematch, the stakes are higher, with a spot in the Elite Eight awaiting the winner.  Who will that winner be?  Big Ten micrositers Joey Nowak (@joeynowak) and Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself) debate.

Indiana and Kentucky collide for the second time this year in the Sweet Sixteen (photo: College Sports Madness)

1.  Anthony Davis versus Cody Zeller.  Can Indiana come out on top of this matchup again?

  • Ryan:  In the first matchup of the freshman big men, Cody Zeller clearly came out on top.  He logged 37 minutes, scored 11 points, and grabbed seven rebounds.  Davis, meanwhile, was saddled with foul trouble for most of the game, and finished with just six points in 24 minutes.  IU will certainly try to attack Davis, because removing his defensive impact from the game opens up opportunities for Zeller to find success inside, and guards like Victor Oladipo to take the ball to the basket.  However, Davis seems to have quickly learned his lesson, having not even committed four fouls in a game since that loss to Indiana.  He only has picked up two personal fouls all tournament, and has played 76 minutes in the two games.  Odds are that he’ll be on the floor, and if he is, advantage Kentucky.
  • Joey: What’s so remarkable about Anthony Davis is how he impacts the game in both small and large sample sizes. He’ll alter a shot on the defensive end or register a block, then run the floor and get a put-back or an easy alley-oop. Or, he might not fill the stat sheet that way, but can neutralize almost any big man in the country, alters shots from all over the floor and changes the way teams have to approach games on both ends. Zeller is fantastic because he’s just as polished, and runs the floor like a three or a four for Indiana. Davis has advantage in the half-court setting, so if Indiana is going to want to exploit the Kentucky big man and utilize their own freshman star, it’s gotta be on the break.

2.  What’s the key for the Hoosier defense to keep the explosive Wildcat offense in check?

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 23rd, 2012

  1. Bad news for Big Ten fans last night, as Michigan State fell to Louisville, 57-44.  Not only were the Spartans the best chance for the conference to claim a national championship, they also became the first #1 seed to fall.  Michigan State looked sloppy and out of sync all game long, thanks to the swarming pressure defense of the Cardinals, and also the shot-blocking presence of Gorgui Dieng, who swatted 7 shots.  Many other stats were disappointing for Spartan fans to look at, including the final score, 44, which is the lowest total point output by a 1-seed in the college basketball shot clock era.
  2. One Spartan who had a game to forget was sophomore point guard Keith Appling.  Appling scored just one basket, and had four turnovers, struggling withe the Louisville pressure.  Following the game, Appling was dejected in the locker room, with the realization of how quickly fortunes can change in the NCAA tournament washing over him.  He’ll be expected to lead the transition out of the Draymond Green era next season, so hopefully Appling doesn’t keep his head down for long.
  3. Wisconsin came oh-so-close to upsetting Syracuse, but the Badgers fell just short, as Jordan Taylor and Josh Gasser could not covert last-second attempts.  Wisconsin was able to slow the pace down, as evidence by the 64-63 score, but the Badgers also ruled the three-point line, knocking down 14 of 27 for a stunning 52% from beyond the arc.  It wasn’t enough though, as Dion Waiters scored 13 points, and also had some key baskets down the stretch that helped the Orange hold on.
  4. The Big Ten only had one successful team on the evening, and that was Ohio State, who’s win over Cincinnati put the Big ten at 1-2 on the night (against the Big East no less), but more importantly sent the Buckeyes to the Elite Eight, a place they haven’t been since the school went to the Final Four in 2007.  Things looked dicey as Ohio State coughed up a 10-point halftime lead five minutes into the second half.  But Thad Motta’s crew collected themselves, and behind 26 points from Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State guaranteed the conference will have Elite Eight representation.
  5. As brackets continue to bust this weekend, Nebraska basketball fans are keeping tabs on a quiet coaching search taking place in Lincoln.  No big names are linked to the Husker jobs, but that doesn’t mean the search lacks for interesting candidates.  Colorado State head coach Tim Miles is a name that not many have talked about, but after taking his Rams to the NCAA tournament and helping turn around that program, he seems like a good fit for a struggling Nebraska.
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Surprising Michigan Departures Raise Questions About Next Season

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 22nd, 2012

For Michigan basketball fans, the NCAA Tournament loss stunk. There’s no getting around that. But the hope for the future was legitimate and tangible, given a strong recruiting class and a returning core group of successful players. Freshman sensation Trey Burke (now wavering?) and sophomore wing Tim Hardaway, Jr., have said they will return to Ann Arbor next year, and while seniors Zach Novak and Stu Douglass will be sorely missed, John Beilein’s rotation was supposed to expand, not shrink, with the addition of three highly-touted freshman and sophomore center Jon Horford returning from a broken foot. However, with yesterday’s announcement that Evan Smotrycz, Colton Christian, and Carlton Brundidge are all leaving the program, the excitement for the 2012-13 era of Michigan basketball has certainly been dampened.

Evan Smotrycz is leaving the Michigan program (photo: Michigan Daily)

Now, I am not saying that these departures are earth-shattering, or that Michigan can’t recover from losing these three players.  To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t unexpected to see a guy like Christian leave, because he was not going to play in the regular rotation.  Brundidge has denied transfer rumors as recently as a couple weeks ago, and many had hoped he would develop into Burke’s backup at the point guard spot next year.  That obviously isn’t going to happen now, and it’s disconcerting for fans to see a highly-touted Detroit-area player (Southfield High School) wash out so quickly from the program.

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A Closer Look: Michigan State vs Louisville

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 21st, 2012

For some pundits on the national scene, Michigan State is thought of as the team “after Kentucky” most likely to win a national championship. The Big Ten co-champs and Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green have a tough task ahead of them with #4 seed Louisville. It’s a rematch of the 2009 Elite Eight when Michigan State upset Louisville 64-52.  What will happen this time around?  Let’s take a look:

Can Tom Izzo lead Michigan State to another Elite Eight? (photo: AP)

1.  How will Louisville approach this game?  Last time these two teams met in 2009, Louisville came out with Rick Pitino‘s bread an butter–the full-court press. However, the Spartans were able to break the press and get some easy baskets, so the Cardinals backed off. Will Louisville decide to attack the Spartan guards again this time around? My guess would be yes. While Keith Appling is a solid ball-handler, he can be turnover-prone at times, as evidenced by his seven-turnover performance against Ohio State on February 11 and his five-turnover game in a loss to Illinois on January 31. The other guards charged with handling the pressure will be senior Austin Thornton (a shooter not known for his handle), Brandon Wood, and true freshman Travis Trice. Don’t be surprised if Draymond Green takes an active role in bringing the ball up the court in an effort to negate the speed and trapping abilities of the Cardinal guards. Louisville relies heavily on guys like Russ Smith (84 steals on the year) and Peyton Siva (63 steals) to create opportunities, and they will need their guards to be better than the Spartan guards if they hope to score the upset.

2.  Will Keith Appling once again be dared to shoot? In a surprising turn of events against Saint Louis, Keith Appling turned into Rajon Rondo. Meaning, the Biliken defense routinely sagged off Appling at the three-point line, daring the Spartan point guard to shoot the ball. It was perplexing to those who have followed Appling’s career because Keith has always been known as a scorer and a guy who certainly has three-point range. In fact, he started the year shooting 52% in the first six games of the year even going 3-5 in a win over Florida State. But the scouting report in this season cannot be denied: Appling hasn’t hit more than one three in a game since December 28. He admitted after the Saint Louis game that he felt disrespected by the defense, yet he was able to knock down a big outside shot late in the second half. Will Louisville employ the same strategy? And if they do, will Appling be willing to pull the trigger to try and make them pay?

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 20th, 2012

  1. Normally, when players work hard and earn individual accolades, it’s an enjoyable accomplishment and a vindication for the sacrifices that they’ve made to reach that point.  But for Draymond Green, all the talk surrounding his outstanding season actually had the opposite effect.  Green admitted to reading media articles, listening to what folks had to say on Twitter, and it affected his game.  Instead of making things happen, he was worrying about what could happen, and that’s no way to lead a team through the NCAA Tournament.  Fortunately, the Michigan State senior has been able to lean on his coach, Tom Izzo, as he’s learning how to handle all his personal success.
  2. Plenty of attention is being paid to the Illinois coaching search, but there is another seat open in the Big Ten, and that belongs to Nebraska.  After parting ways with Doc Sadler, the Huskers are taking their time trying to find a new man to lead the program.  While it’s not the most high-profile job in college basketball, there still are expectations, and any viable candidate is going to be expected to compete and win in the Big Ten.  The latest coach to interview for the job is Oral Roberts head man Scott Sutton.
  3. While fading down the stretch and ultimately losing to Kansas was certainly disappointing enough for Purdue fans, watching Robbie Hummel play his last game as a Boilermaker was equally tough. Hummel’s career may be most remembered by outside fans because of the injuries he suffered while at Purdue, but the legacy he leaves is one of hard work and passion for the game. Hummel’s commitment to the program and to his teammates is unmatched, and that will be what he’ll be remembered for by Purdue fans, in addition to being a pretty good player when healthy.
  4. With all the talk of brackets, matchups, and dreams of Sweet Sixteen success, it can be pretty tough to remain a student-athlete.  Travel during the NCAA Tournament is hard enough from a physical standpoint, but add in school work, and you’ve got a lot of things weighing on young men’s minds. For Wisconsin, keeping up with their studies is obviously a priority for the players, and the coaching staff has been crafting practice schedules in order to accommodate the extra workload.
  5. Minnesota remains alive in the NIT, and the Gophers came out REALLY ready to play against Miami last night. Minny came out on a 12-0 run, and never trailed throughout the contest. Star forward Rodney Williams led the attack with 21 points.  Up next for the Gophers, they’ll head to Middle Tennessee on Wednesday night to try and continue its run toward an NIT championship.
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Four Tournament Thoughts: Wisconsin vs Montana

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 15th, 2012

The 1st (or is it 2nd?  3rd?  Whatever…) round of the NCAA tournament tipped off today, and Wisconsin was the first Big Ten team to take the court to defend the conference’s honor. The Badgers were up to the task, defeating Montana 73-49.  Here’s how it went down:

Rob Wilson and the rest of the Badgers played a complete game against Montana (photo: Washington Post)

1. Jordan Taylor played like…Jordan Taylor - The Wisconsin point guard has been making  an extra effort this year to get his teammates involved, especially his mates in the frontcourt. But against Montana, Taylor was regularly open, and looked for his own shot.  He scored 17 points, but stayed impactful in every other facet of the game, tallying 8 boards and six assists along with the most important Taylor stat of all: no turnovers. That type of performance from their point guard is exactly what can carry the Badgers deep in the NCAA Tournament.

2. Ryan Evans was a solid number two - Taylor is the unquestioned star, but Wisconsin needs other scoring options to step up, and that’s exactly what Evans was able to do. The junior forward lead the team with 18 points and also had 8 rebounds. He found his way to the rim and while Montana doesn’t exactly posses the athleticism that future opponents will have it was still good to see him comfortable on the offensive end.

3. Badger big men played BIG - Jared Berrgren, normally a scorer for Wisconsin, defended the rim like Anthony Davis against the Grizzlies, rejecting 7 shots. Overall, the Badger defense made it tough on Montana, forcing them into 38% shooting for the game. Wisconsin also finished +13 on the glass, overall a good day for the men up front.

4. Vanderbilt had their hands full with Harvard, so that means… - Not sure exactly, given how volatile the NCAA Tournament can be. But it should give the Badgers a good dose of confidence, knowing that they played some good basketball, while Vandy had some shaky moments against their opponents. Perhaps more importantly, the Badgers scored 73 points, and breaking that 70 (or even 65) plateau was something that proved difficult for the team this season in Big Ten play. March is always a good time to be playing your best basketball, and getting ready for a Bo Ryan team is not easy when you’re unfamiliar with the way Wisconsin plays.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 15th, 2012

  1. If the NIT is any indication of how the Big Ten will fare in today’s NCAA Tournament games, then I think the conference will be happy.  Minnesota traveled to Philadelphia to take on LaSalle, and came away with a 70-61 win.  While Tubby Smith’s crew didn’t have the season some wanted in Gopher-land, they have been playing better over the past couple weeks, and last night they showed off those improvements.  One of the main reasons is the play of star forward Rodney Williams, who took control with 17 of his 21 points coming in the second half, including a monstrous dunk that showed off his athleticism.
  2. There is plenty to worry about when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.  Travel, preparation, an unfamiliar opponent, and… altitude???  That’s exactly what Wisconsin has to deal with, as its game in Albuquerque is about 4,500 feet higher above sea level than Madison.  The Badgers arrived Tuesday, and have been working on getting adjusted so that it doesn’t become a factor in its game against Montana.  At this point, it’s not a matter of the team not being in shape; it’s being able to catch your breath in the heat of battle when the air is a little thinner.
  3. When you start four sophomores, many would say that your team lacks experience.  But when all four of those sophomores suffered an early exit last year in the NCAA Tournament, they have enough experience to know that they don’t want to go through something like that again.  Such is the case at Ohio State, who outside of William Buford, has four sophomores who watched Kentucky’s Brandon Knight hit a jumper with five seconds left last year to knock the Buckeyes out of the Tournament.  It is a memory that guys like Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft don’t want to repeat.
  4. It’s the time of year when changes are made in both the coaching ranks and in player personnel, and Penn State is suffering some attrition as sophomore guard Matt Glover has decided to transfer.  Originally from California, the defensive stopper will move on to other opportunities for his basketball future.
  5. As Illinois moves on to find a replacement for Bruce Weber, the program still needs someone to lead it, and that someone is Jerrance Howard.  The Illini assistant is currently the interim coach until a new one is named, and it’s his job to keep things in order until athletic director Mike Thomas makes a new hire.  Whether that decision is made in a week or in a month, Howard will keep plugging along, doing his best to keep things running smoothly in Champaign.
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Five Bold Big Ten Predictions For the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 14th, 2012

It’s my favorite sports time of year!  The NCAA Tournament is here!!!  While we all feverishly try and figure out with first round upset to pick, I have some thoughts on how the Big Ten will perform.  Will the best conference in the country find success in the Big Dance?  Here are Five Bold Predictions

Will Draymond Green have a chance to cut down the nets in another Final Four? (photo: Reuters)

#1 – Hello, Big Ten.  Allow me to embrace you:  The Big Ten was the best conference in college basketball this year, and while the league only got six teams into the Tournament, it has five teams seeded as a #4 seed or higher.  Purdue is the only seed not “favored” in their game, but don’t be surprised if Purdue is favored in Vegas against St. Mary’s.  If you are participating in a pool in Big Ten country, don’t listen to those who call you a homer.  All six Big Ten teams will win in their opening game matchups, and I believe that two of them are headed to the Final Four.

#2 – Don’t buy all this Memphis stuff when it comes to MSU:  Michigan State earned its #1 seed with a great Big Ten tournament performance, and now everyone’s feathers are all ruffled because they think Memphis could upset the Spartans early.  I watched Memphis play earlier this year when they lost to Michigan, and did not come away impressed.  They have great athletes, but I have no faith in Josh Pastner as a big-time coach.  When it comes to quick turnarounds, no one can scout and adjust like Tom Izzo.  It’s almost an art form how well Izzo and his staff prepares MSU for their next NCAA game in less than 48 hours.  Finally, Conference USA is no Big Ten, and when Memphis played outside of their conference they lost to Georgetown (twice), Murray State, Louisville, and Michigan.  Their best win over a tournament team is against Xavier. Michigan State, meanwhile, just won the Big Ten tournament by beating Wisconsin and Ohio State, two wins much more impressive than anything the Tigers have on their resume.  Why should the Spartans be scared again???

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.14.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 14th, 2012

  1. Perhaps no Big Ten team was happier on Selection Sunday than Indiana, who has waited three long years to return to the NCAA Tournament. After suffering through three straight seasons of 20 or more losses,  it feels good to have things going back in a positive direction for the Hoosier faithful. Among other interesting notes, IU has played eight teams that are in this year’s NCAA Tournament, and went 8-5 against them. Granted, more than half were in-conference foes, but that win over #1-overall-seed Kentucky certainly stands out.
  2. If they were disappointed that their team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, you certainly couldn’t have figured that out from the way Iowa fans acted during their first round NIT win over Dayton last night.  Hawkeye fans got the party started when they were asked to stand for the National Anthem, and kept the volume turned up the entire game, as Aaron White put up a career-high 25 points in the victory.  Not only was Carver-Hawkeye Arena one of the toughest places Dayton has played this year, but it was also more full than usual, even with the student body on spring break.
  3. Michigan State enters the NCAA Tournament as the highest-rated seed among Big Ten schools.  The Spartans earned their #1 distinction after a thrilling win in the Big Ten Tournament final. After coming home from Indianapolis on their bus, the team was greeted by fallen comrade Branden Dawson. It was there in the Breslin Center locker room that the players held a impromptu net-cutting ceremony specifically for Dawson, who underwent surgery for his torn ACL and didn’t make the trip with the team to the tournament.  It is that kind of chemistry that defines this Spartan squad, and has people asking how far it can take MSU.
  4. For Michigan fans, it was a little ironic to see that the Wolverines drew Ohio University in its first game.  Head football coach Brady Hoke has famously referred to Ohio State as “Ohio” during his first year as head man of the program, and John Beilein has caught the “Ohio” fever and followed suit.  Now, Michigan will play the “real” Ohio, and Beilien is trying to prepare for the Bobcats.  Ohio head coach John Groce was a former assistant at OSU, and that only adds to the spice of what already will be an interesting way to find out “what’s in a name?”
  5. You have to feel for Northwestern, as missing the NCAA Tournament yet again was frustrating for players and fans alike. One play they are familiar with is the NIT, where they are competing for the fourth straight year, holding on to defeat Akron last night to advance to the next round.  But with dreams of the Big Dance dashed, the NIT can be a tough sell for fans who want to see the program take the next step.  It would be a statement of sorts to win the NIT, and possibly gather some momentum for next season as the program still looks to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
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Four Game Recaps: Big Ten Tournament First Round

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 9th, 2012

Here’s a breakdown on how things went down in the Big Ten tournament’s first day of action:

Matt Gatens led Iowa to a big win over Illinois (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Iowa 64 – Illinois 61

The skinny: It’s been a tough season for Illini fans, and now (some would say thankfully) it is over. Myers Leonard was a force down low for Illinois, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards, but Brandon Paul struggled his way to four points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Gatens continued his solid senior season with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but it was his defense on Paul that really was the difference in this contest for Iowa. Head coach Fran McCaffery complained earlier this week about Gatens not being included on the all-Big Ten defensive team, and the senior looked every bit an elite-level stopper in this match-up. All-Big Ten freshman Aaron White had 13 points and 9 rebounds including a key offensive board with about 40 seconds left after a missed free throw by Roy Devyn Marble that helped seal the game for Iowa.

Up next: The #8-seed Hawkeyes will face #1-seed Michigan State at noon today. Iowa only played the Spartans once this season, falling 95-61 in a game at East Lansing on January 10.

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Big Ten Writer Roundtable: A look at the Big Ten Tourney

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 7th, 2012

Big Ten contributors Joey Nowak (@joeynowak), Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself), and Deepak Jayanti (@10thyearseniors) put their heads together and discussed some key questions heading into the Big Ten Tournament.  Here are their thoughts:

1.) What school playing on Thursday has the best shot to win the Big Ten Tournament?

Joey:  I really think any team besides Nebraska and Penn State (though if Tim Frazier heats up, Penn State could have a repeat of last year) has a chance to do damage. Minnesota and Illinois both have talent and nothing to lose. Purdue is playing better, with the experienced Robbie Hummel at the helm, and has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Iowa has a guy in Matt Gatens they can ride to a win or two. And Northwestern should come in as focused as any team in the tournament, given what’s at stake for the Wildcats.

But the team I would least like to play this weekend is Indiana. The Hoosiers have won four in a row (the last three against quality Big Ten opponents) and seven of their last eight. They should handle Penn State before taking a great shot at Wisconsin on Friday. They are better on defense than they were early in the Big Ten schedule, and can still score with the best of them, thanks to a solid inside-out game. But the intangible of playing in front of a friendly Indianapolis crowd could be a huge boost. It won’t give them the same advantage they’ve held at Assembly Hall this season, but if the last few years are any indication (when they were terrible), the Hoosier faithful will be out in full force. Don’t be surprised to see them playing Sunday.
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