There are few college basketball venues more unique than Williams Arena, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Nicknamed ‘The Barn' , the arena is old school in many ways. Nothing is more unusual, however, than the raised floor. The playing surface is several feet above where the players sit on the bench. Player are eye level with the playing surface from their seats.
For Indiana, the venue has been a tough place to play for other reasons, too. The Hoosiers simply haven't had much success there. In its last 14 trips to the Barn, Indiana is 3-11.
Today, the Hoosiers (14-8, 4-5 Big Ten) will be looking for a key road victory in a tough environment when they travel to Williams Arena to take on Minnesota (15-8, 4-6). The Gophers have lost three in a row and four of their last five. The current three-game losing streak includes road losses to Nebraska and Purdue sandwiched around a one-point home loss to Northwestern.
IU coach Tom Crean agreed that Williams Arena provides a unique setting for the Hoosiers.
"First, I think everybody has a tough home court in this league that makes it unique because of the fan support and the teams,'' Crean said. "And I think the bottom line is that Minnesota is no different. As far back as I can remember, they have always had very good teams.''
But he knows that The Barn has its share of unique challenges, too.
"The first thing that comes to mind is the raised floor,'' Crean said. "There is no question that takes a little bit of getting used to for a player, especially when you are bringing a new team in. Their fans are fantastic and very loud. It's just a great building, not only in this league, but in the country for college basketball. I think that's the biggest thing.
"But the team on the floor has a lot to do with it. If I had to pick only one thing, though, it would be getting used to the raised floor."
Crean said one of the keys with a young is to not make too big of a deal out of it. He wants his players to be aware of it as the go through shoot around and such in preparation for the game but not to give it too much thought.
"It's just so different but it is what it is,'' Crean said. "You don't really play on anything like it. It would be like going to Vanderbilt in the SEC. It is just different. The bottom line is you don't overdo it and you don't talk about it too much. You just try to get them on the court. Hopefully the travel schedule goes well and we will be able to get on the court (Friday night) and shoot. Then we will have our walk-through (Saturday).
" I just think it is them getting used to it. I think they get in there and it is a lot of fun to play in there because it is hot, congested and there are a ton of people there. It is a tremendous atmosphere. Once you start playing, you forget about it. It's like anything else, when you walk in for the first time and go up a couple steps to get onto the court, that's different and once you settle in and play, everything is fine."
IU sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell said it's just a matter of getting past the oddities the court presents.
""Every Big Ten home court is different,'' Ferrell said. " It gets really loud in there and it's different with the benches being below court level."
Today marks the first of five more road games in the last nine games to wrap up Big Ten play for the Hoosiers. IU is 4-5 overall and 1-3 on the road with that victory coming over Penn State. The Hoosiers still have road games with Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Picking up at least two more road wins in the final would seem imperative for an IU team trying to play itself into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Last year, when IU went 14-4 and won the Big Ten title outright, the Hoosiers were 7-2 on the road.
One of those two road losses from a year ago was right here in The Barn. IU dropped a 77-73 road decision to the Golden Gophers.
IU needs to reverse that outcome today in what will be a very difficult road environment.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch