Indiana might be nestled atop the Big Ten standings, but on Tuesday the Hoosiers get a chance to take their first step toward a Big Ten title.
No. 11 Indiana (12-3/4-1) ventures into Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a nationally-televised 9 p.m. encounter with No. 25 Iowa (14-5/3-2) Tuesday night, tipping off a week that will also include a Sunday trip to Minneapolis to face a struggling Minnesota squad.
While Indiana is 4-1 in the league and has impressive wins over top-25 foes Ohio State and Illinois on its resume, both victories have come at Assembly Hall. In fact, Indiana has played four of its first five conference games on its home floor, winning all of them while losing its lone road game, an 87-73 setback to Big Ten title hopeful Michigan State in East Lansing.
Indiana's recent run of success has lifted Coach Mike Davis' team to first place in the Big Ten and likely back into the top 10 when the new polls come out Monday, but Indiana has yet to do anything to separate itself from the pack in its quest for league supremacy.
The truth of the matter is that while Big Ten banners might be hoisted at home, they're secured with success on the road. And doing that is never easy.
"It's tough for anyone in this conference to go and get road wins," said Davis.
The numbers certainly bear that out. Thus far, Big Ten teams are 20-9 on their home courts in league play. When it comes to the seven Big Ten teams with +.500 conference records - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin – those teams are a combined 15-1 at home in league games, with Ohio State's 62-59, double-overtime setback to Michigan State the lone loss.
Of course, struggles on the road are nothing new for league teams. In the last two years, only two teams have compiled winning road records in conference play – Illinois and Michigan State. The Illini went 6-2 on the road in 2004 and 7-1 in 2005, which Michigan went 5-3 away from the Breslin Center in 2003 and 6-2 in 2004.
As a result, Illinois and Michigan State have reigned supreme the last two seasons, finishing 1-2 in the league race each year. Indiana, on the other hand, was one of only two teams to go a perfect 8-0 at home a year ago, but a 2-6 road record left the Hoosiers a distant fourth in the conference standings.
Indiana is already halfway home to another perfect home court record in conference play, but if Indiana hopes to win its first Big Ten title since 2002, the Hoosiers will have to begin to experience some success away from Bloomington as well.
That all starts Tuesday, when Indiana travels to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to face an Iowa team that will be either staggered or seething from a 30-point loss at Michigan State Saturday afternoon. That setback occurred in East Lansing, though, and Iowa is a perfect 11-0 at home, including impressive wins over Illinois and N.C. State, among others.
Indiana has enjoyed a degree of success in recent years in Iowa City. After losing six straight games in Iowa City from 1995-2001, Indiana has won in two of its last three games on Iowa's home floor. That includes a 77-66 win in mid-January in 2002, a victory that signaled Indiana's legitimacy as a title contender.
"This is the first week we've had two road games," said Davis, whose team is 3-2 in road games this season. "It's definitely going to be a challenge for us going to Iowa…so hopefully we can go in there and play well.
"Hopefully we can split this week, but it's definitely going to be challenging for us."
A challenge, yes, but Indiana's Big Ten title hopes very well may depend on a couple of good results this week.
The Road To A Big Ten Title
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