December 17, 2012 at 1:00 am

Matt Charboneau

Despite OT loss, Indiana still is Big Ten team to beat

Butler’s Khyle Marshall dunks during the win over No. 1 Indiana on Saturday. IU’s loss shouldn’t derail its Big Ten and NCAA title hopes. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Before the panic truly sets in and all of Bloomington jumps off the Hoosiers bandwagon, take a step back.

Saturday's overtime loss to Butler hardly is a sign of impending doom for what still might be the best team in college basketball.

Indiana was the No. 1-ranked team entering its showdown with Butler in Indianapolis. Yes, that will certainly change when the new rankings come out today, but let's not get crazy — Indiana still is an outstanding basketball team.

Coach Tom Crean alluded to it after the game, reminding everyone that the Hoosiers didn't just lose to Saginaw Valley State. Butler is a team that should have been ranked, will be ranked, and likely will be in the NCAA Tournament.

A mid-major darling no longer, the Bulldogs have played in two of the last three Final Fours — missing a national title by inches — and have long since quit being intimidated by the big boys.

They certainly were not Saturday, winning in overtime despite having two of their best players foul out before the end of regulation.

But even Butler coach Brad Stevens understands the Hoosiers are clearly still one of the best teams in the nation.

"Don't use this as an excuse to get down on Indiana," he said. "I still think they're the team to beat in April. Our guys just played really hard and, when it really mattered, they figured out a way."

Let's face it; the odds of going unbeaten are incredibly long. The last team to do it was, ironically, Indiana in 1976. UNLV came close in 1991 before losing in the Final Four.

But nowadays, it's virtually impossible.

That doesn't mean there won't be some second-guessing of Crean.

On Butler's winning basket, a floater in the lane by Alex Barlow, 7-foot center Cody Zeller was on the bench.

Crean wasn't too anxious to be second-guessed, however, on his choice to keep Remy Abell in the game instead of Zeller.

"Didn't I just cover that?" he responded when pressed on the issue. "I did just cover that. We were in a 55 and we wanted to switch everything. They were running a lot of high ball screens. In that situation we just wanted to switch accordingly because it was either going to be a drive or a three. And then everybody just had to do what they had to do rebounding the ball.

"I think I covered that when I walked in."

Odds are, Crean will relax. Of course, watching him pace the sidelines during a game, maybe he won't.

It's understandable. Crean has slowly taken the Hoosiers from despair and built them into a powerhouse. Three patsies await over the next two weeks before Big Ten play begins.

"There's a lot of little things we need to figure out," Zeller said. "We'll get back to work and figure them out."

If the rest of the Big Ten was wise, they'd understand there will likely be few days like the one the Hoosiers had against Butler.

The loss was a heart-breaker, but it just might be the only one this team sees all season.

Six strong teams

Coming into the season, the Big Ten was expected to be the best conference in the country.

Several weeks in, there is little doubt. In fact, the Big Ten might be even better than expected, if that's possible.

Indiana had been the class of the league before Saturday's loss, but close behind has been Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. The surprises have been Illinois and Minnesota. The Illini are 12-0 while the Gophers are 11-1.

There seems little doubt that Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State will be around all season and odds are Michigan State will be, as well.

But what about Illinois and Minnesota?

The Illini have gotten outstanding play from Brandon Paul , who has been far more consistent than he has at any point in his career. The Gophers have stayed healthy, an issue that has crippled them in past seasons.

There seems to be no evidence that any of these teams will take a turn for the worse. Conference play will likely create peaks and valleys for some, but with these six teams slugging it out, get ready for a wild ride in the Big Ten this year.

Turnovers hurt Purdue

Not all is well in the Big Ten. Purdue (4-6) has struggled mightily, losing three of its last four games after falling to No. 22 Notre Dame over the weekend.

But the true downer was a 47-44 loss to Eastern Michigan. The Boilermakers turned the ball over 18 times in that game, and against Notre Dame, coughed it up 15 times.

"It's frustrating ... frustrating when you don't take care of the basketball," coach Matt Painter said. "I think that's an element of the game you can control, especially against a good, halfcourt defensive team that doesn't come out and pressure you. We're not getting pressured, yet we are throwing it to them. Once again, I feel like we are beating ourselves. I would like to have some data from a game when we don't turn the basketball over."

mcharboneau@detnews.com

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