Indiana wants to add to its NCAA Tournament resume. It wants its seniors to go out winners.
Even with claiming the Big Ten regular season title outright last Tuesday, Sunday's 4:30 p.m. nationally-televised home matchup with No. 14 Maryland on CBS is anything but meaningless for the No. 12 Hoosiers.
"We go about every day the same, whether it was for the outright title at Iowa, practice Thursday, yesterday or today," fifth-year guard Nick Zeisloft said. "Maryland's a huge test for us."
The program will recognize Zeisloft and four other seniors - Yogi Ferrell, Max Bielfeldt, Ryan Burton and Jackson Tharp - as part of the regular season home finale's senior day festivities.
Burton, a walk-on, transferred to Indiana from Belmont following the 2012-13 season and spent the last two years playing for Indiana. He earned Academic All-Big Ten honors following his junior season. Tharp spent his first three seasons as a student manager before being added to the active roster as a walk-on on Jan. 15. In Indiana's win over Illinois earlier in the season, Tharp assisted on Indiana's single-game record-setting 19th 3-pointer.
While the senior day experience is new to Burton and Tharp, it isn't for Bielfeldt. The graduate transfer forward has already gone through senior day once before, having completed his undergraduate degree at Michigan last year. However, the ceremonies in Ann Arbor, Michigan didn't include speeches.
"I guess I'm going to wing it," Bielfeldt said.
Ferrell's story offers arguably the most intrigue out of each member of the 2016 senior class. Arriving in Bloomington as Indiana's most heralded recruiting class under head coach Tom Crean, a class dubbed "The Movement," Ferrell was the only player of the five-member class who stayed at IU. Ron Patterson never stepped foot on campus, Jeremy Hollowell transferred to Gerogia State after his sophomore year, and Peter Jurkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea both transferred to East Tennessee State.
"(It's) a little bit weird," Ferrell said. "Obviously, coming in, I expected all five of us to come in and impact the team for many years and win a lot of games. Those guys felt like they had better opportunity for their success, and you've got to respect their decision. Me being the last one left, I just stuck with it."
By sticking with it, Ferrell has been rewarded. He holds the program career assist record and continues to add to it. Sunday will be the last time for him to showcase his talents before the Assembly Hall faithful as a player.
“My body feels like I’ve been here forever,” Ferrell said Saturday, laughing. “I feel like I’ve been here for a while, man. Definitely would never want to leave this place, I feel like, getting so much love from the fans.”
Thanks the efforts of Ferrell and the other seniors, Indiana has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. A win over Maryland would be valuable asset to the Hoosiers' NCAA tournament resume and give Indiana its undefeated home record in conference play since the 2006-07 season.
The Terrapins have spent nine of the 16 weeks of the regular season ranked between No. 2 and 4 in the AP Top 25. Critical to having that success for most of the season has been a deep rotation with 10 of the 14 players on the active roster playing at least 24 games. Of those 10 players, half have played at least 19.9 minutes per game this season.
That depth presents "every problem imaginable," according to Crean.
"They don't put anybody out on the court that can't make plays," Crean said.
Indiana won't have the same luxury with its depth. Our Justin Albers reported Saturday afternoon that sophomore guard Robert Johnson is feeling better but likely to sit out his third consecutive game so that he can be healthy for the Big Ten Tournament next week. Freshman forward Juwan Morgan, who injured his shoulder in Indiana's win over Iowa, went through a limited practice on Friday but was doing "much better" on Saturday, according to Crean.
Regardless of their status, the game will be treated with the same meaning as the previous 17 conference games for the Hoosiers.
"Last game, definitely want to go undefeated," Ferrell said. "And I know these want to, too."