Ann Arbor -- So what's left to settle in Chicago?
But first things first, there was this score to settle, and as you'd expect, it wasn't going to be settled until the final buzzer, with Indiana claimed the outright Big Ten title — it's first in two decades — Sunday in Ann Arbor.
They won it by the slimmest of margins, with Jordan Morgan's potential game-winning putback hanging on the rim for what seemed like an eternity, after Trey Burke's missed layup had similarly teased.
One bounce. Then two. Then a third, and a fourth. Finally, it rolled off, the sellout crowd at the Crisler Center shrieked in unison, and Michigan's players stared in disbelief as Indiana's bench erupted in celebration.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana's do-it-all junior, then did what came naturally to a marathon winner, jogging to center court and collapsing to the ground. Later, he appeared to shed a few tears when he hugged his coach, Tom Crean.
Asked later how long it felt as if Michigan's last shot attempt held everyone captive — an hour, maybe? — Oladipo laughed.
"About 2-1/2 or 3 (hours)," he said. "Wow. I'm kind of speechless, you know? It's been a crazy ride."
How crazy? Well, consider that earlier in the week the Hoosiers actually cut down the nets at Assembly Hall after a loss, having clinched a share of the Big Ten title the same night they lost their regular-season home finale to Ohio State.
Yet Sunday, there they were, wearing the same championship caps they'd worn five days earlier, only this time with different expressions underneath.
"Uh, yeah, just a little bit," smiled guard Jordan Hulls, one of the seniors who helped this Indiana program through the lean years.
Indiana won a total of eight Big Ten games in Crean's first three seasons (2008-11) in Bloomington. But they've won three times that many the last two, and Sunday's triumph was the Hoosiers' seventh on the road in conference play this season.
Indiana (26-5 overall, 14-4 Big Ten) was the only visitor all season to win in East Lansing, the only team to win in Columbus, and now the only one to win in Ann Arbor, too. All three of those wins came on the road against teams ranked in the top 10, and yet that's exactly what it took to win this league.
And having avoided sharing the Big Ten title — albeit with considerable help from Michigan at the free-throw line in the final minute of Sunday's game — they've secured a No. 1 seed not just in the Big Ten tournament, but likely also in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think you win this league — and it's the best league in the country — yeah, I would say so," Crean said. "I haven't really thought a lot about it. But I think so. You win this league the way that we did, you win it outright, with everything that's gone on this season in this league, yes, I do."
Most rational observers do, too, for what it's worth. But with everything that's gone on in the Big Ten, and considering what has gone on elsewhere in college basketball, Crean wanted to make another point after Sunday's game.
More than one No. 1
You could argue the Big Ten deserves more than one No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, and it was Crean's old boss who was busy making that case an hour down the road Sunday evening.
Talking about the Big Ten tournament that awaits this week in Chicago, Michigan State's Tom Izzo took note of the strength at the top of the league — Michigan, ranked seventh in the nation last week, will be the No. 5 seed in Chicago — and said, "This is way bigger than some Final Fours that I've been in."
So it only stands to reason that if one of the other top seeds comes out on top next weekend, "We may not be the only one," Crean said. Then, referring specifically to Michigan, he added "I mean, I don't think they're far from it. If we are (a No. 1 seed), I don't think they're far."
And if you think Izzo's team isn't, well, he had a message for you, too, when he took the microphone and addressed the Breslin Center crowd after Sunday's Senior Day win over Northwestern.
"Just like last year, maybe we didn't accomplish exactly what we wanted to at the end of the regular season," said Izzo, whose team coughed up the outright title on the last day a year ago, then rallied to win the Big Ten tournament and grab a No. 1 seed. "But 31 times, your team showed up. And next weekend, our (butts) are showing up, I promise you that."
Michigan has to show up in Chicago on Wednesday now, with a first-round game against Penn State (10-20) on Thursday. But a win in that one would give them another shot at Wisconsin, which beat the Wolverines as time expired in Madison a month ago. And a win there could give them a rematch with Indiana, provided the Hoosiers can get past the winner of Thursday's Illinois-Minnesota matchup.
That's a lot of "ifs," of course. Especially considering the way this Big Ten season has gone, Sunday included. As Izzo put it Sunday, "I've got a lot of people I'd like to get a shot at (in Chicago.) At the same time, this thing is filled with land mines."
But there are scores to settle, yes. And Sunday's nerve-wracking finish in Ann Arbor only adds to the list.
Max Bielfeldt and Tim Hardaway Jr. walk off the Crisler Center court following Michigan's loss Sunday. / John T. Greilick / Detroit News
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