DECKER: Don't Downplay Game's Significance

Indiana University officials won't cancel school tomorrow and parade the team down Kirkwood Avenue if the Hoosiers win. And Coach Kelvin Sampson knows he will still have a good team when he wakes up tomorrow if they lose. That's apparently the approach the 25th-ranked Hoosiers are taking as they prepare for tonight's pivotal match-up with second-ranked Wisconsin.

Indiana University officials won't cancel school tomorrow and parade the team down Kirkwood Avenue if the Hoosiers win.

And Coach Kelvin Sampson knows he will still have a good team when he wakes up tomorrow if they lose.

That's apparently the approach the 25th-ranked Hoosiers are taking as they prepare for tonight's pivotal match-up with second-ranked Wisconsin.

"We're treating this as a business game," Rod Wilmont said Tuesday. "We just have to take care of business. I'm not any more up for this game than any other one."

As much as the Hoosiers might want to shrug off the suggestion this is anything more than the next game up on the schedule, tonight's match-up is a little bit bigger for a variety of reasons.

First of all, any legitimate shot at the Big Ten regular season title requires a victory over Wisconsin. Do that and the Hoosiers are one game out of the league lead at the midway point of the conference slate. Fail to do so and Indiana is suddenly three games behind the Badgers with five of their final eight games on the road.

That's the basketball equivalent of having to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

But staying alive in the Big Ten title chase isn't the only thing on the line tonight. Looking ahead to the postseason, no game on the regular season schedule can do more for Indiana's NCAA Tournament seeding than a win over the Badgers.

When the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee assembles in mid-March in Indianapolis and analyzes Indiana's tournament credentials, they'll likely see a team that's won 20-plus games, one that also had some near misses on the road against some good teams such Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State.

Is that good enough to get Indiana in? Absolutely.

But recent years' results not withstanding, getting in isn't what Indiana basketball is all about. The Hoosiers want to make a run, and the best way to give yourself a shot at doing that is with the sort of seed that keeps the nation's elite at bay until the second week.

For that to happen, Indiana needs to beat the Badgers.

Right now, Indiana has beaten plenty of good teams. Routs of Purdue and Michigan State were impressive, as were victories over Michigan and Southern Illinois. Indiana's win at Connecticut earlier this month, meanwhile, showed Sampson's squad can beat a quality opponent in a hostile environment.

But look at other teams from the Big 12 or the SEC or the ACC, and they'll have similar accomplishments and near misses to point to. If Indiana wants to separate itself and be worthy of a lofty seed in the tournament field, it needs to have this sort of eye-opening win to grab the committee's attention.

"I think it would be less than honest if you think this is not a big game," Sampson said. "But these kids have all played in big games. I've coached in a lot of big games. You can't make it more than what it is."

That's true, but you can't shrug off its potential significance, either.

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