Despite struggling down the stretch in the regular season, Indiana believes it can make a serious run at winning its first-ever Big Ten tournament title.
The 22nd-ranked Hoosiers begin down that road as they host Minnesota in a quarterfinal game Friday night in Indianapolis.Indiana (25-6) dropped two of its final three regular-season games, including a 68-64 overtime loss at Penn State on Sunday to settle for the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. Indiana also lost 103-74 at then-No. 19 Michigan State on March 2.As the Hoosiers try to regroup, they'll have the comfort of playing some 50 miles from campus and should have a tremendous crowd advantage as they try to beat sixth-seeded Minnesota (19-12) for the third time. The sixth-seeded Gophers won 55-52 over Northwestern in a first-round game Thursday.Indiana is 13-4 all-time at Conseco, but just 3-3 in Big Ten tournament games.Though Indiana is coming off a loss and has reached the finals of the tournament just once -- losing 63-61 to Iowa in 2001 -- in the first nine years of the event, it remains confident heading into the weekend."We think we can win the Big Ten (tournament) championship, still," Indiana guard Armon Bassett said. "Through all the ups and down we have been through we still think we should be one of the favorites to be playing on Sunday and win that thing."The Hoosiers are the only team to boast two all-conference first-team selections in Big Ten player of the year D.J. White and freshman of the year Eric Gordon. Gordon, who averages 21.5 points, had 26, while White added 20 and 12 rebounds against Penn State.Gordon, though, shot 8-for-24 from the field and committed five turnovers as Indiana shot 37.9 percent and turned the ball over 17 times in that contest.Hoosiers interim coach Dan Dakich, however, doesn't believe the recent distractions from the allegations of NCAA violations that led to former coach Kelvin Sampson's resignation last month have worn his team down from a mental standpoint."I'll say when we are not playing well, but I don't think there is any issue with anybody's mental state," said Dakich, who is 3-2 since replacing Sampson. "The focus is on getting better. I've said this all along since I've taken over here."Indiana looks to improve offensively after shooting 40.6 percent in its last four contests -- well below its 46.8 percent season mark."I think we understand that we are two losses away from our season being over," said White, who averages 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.It's unsure if Indiana starting swingman Jamarcus Ellis will play after missing Sunday's game due to disciplinary reasons.Friday marks the second time the schools will meet in the conference tournament. White had 21 points and 10 boards as a freshman in Indiana's 71-55 quarterfinal loss to Minnesota in the 2005 tournament.White and Gordon combined for 37 points in Indiana's 69-55 home finale over Minnesota on March 5 in the teams' most recent meeting.Minnesota avoided a second straight first-round conference tournament loss by rallying from a 13-point halftime deficit to beat Northwestern.Lawrence Westbrook had 17 points and Dan Coleman added 16 for the Gophers, who outscored the Wildcats 34-18 in the final 20 minutes.Coleman, a senior and the team's leading scorer, averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games against Indiana this season.Minnesota, which has more than doubled its win total from 2006-07 in its first season under coach Tubby Smith, could be without 6-foot-9 senior Spencer Tollackson after he suffered an ankle injury in the first half Thursday.The winner of this game will play the winner of the game between No. 17 Purdue and Illinois in the semifinals Saturday.