Bloomington, Ind. – Big Ten title marches aren't supposed to feel like this.
Bloomington should be alive with anticipation after IU's riveting 77-68 win over Purdue Tuesday night, a victory that has the Hoosiers nipping at the Boilermakers' heels in the conference championship chase.
But the anticipation that's engulfed Bloomington isn't about March Madness – it's about a likely February exodus of basketball coach Kelvin Sampson.
Sampson is expected to receive word Friday he's out as the program's basketball coach in the wake of five alleged major recruiting violations committed by him and his staff. He'll have a contractually stipulated 10-day window to appeal the university's decision, but he'll be without a team during those 10 days and without a chance of convincing any of the decision-makers that his job should be spared.
While plenty of fans have been swayed during a couple of inspiring two-hour performances against Michigan State and Purdue, IU Athletic Director Rick Greenspan and President Michael McRobbie aren't about to let a couple of wins offset Sampson's transgressions.
Sampson says he hasn't given his future a great deal of thought, presumably due to a rigorous five-game stretch that was going to make-or-break IU's conference championship hopes. Indiana survived that pivotal stretch of games and is positioned to compete for IU's first conference crown since 2002, but it likely won't be with Sampson calling the shots.
While the writing on the wall is apparent to everyone else, Sampson appears to be turning a blind eye to it.
"I really haven't thought about it," Sampson said when asked if Tuesday night was his last game as IU's coach. "My focus has been on the team. I haven't really thought about me whatsoever."
That's a bit hard to believe. Sampson has been handing out a few more hugs to his players at the close of these recent contests, and he walked off the court Tuesday night with his arm around his wife, Karen. Those gestures and acts suggested that down deep Sampson knows what's coming.
But to his credit, he's managed to keep his team's focus on basketball.
"It doesn't cross our minds at all," D.J. White said. "When we're on the court, that's all we think about. Right now we're trying to win games."
They've had a great deal of success doing that, as they stand 22-4 and have their Big Ten title hopes in their own hands. While IU's recent run is a tribute to Sampson's ability to keep his team focused – remember, IU lost seven out of eight two years ago when Mike Davis' future was in doubt – it's not going to be enough to save Sampson.
"It's not in our hands," said junior Kyle Taber. "We're just going to go out there and play. We can't do nothing to change anything. We're just going to go out and play and try to win basketball games."
It's an approach that's worked splendidly, and this team has overcome a career's worth of distractions to compete for a Big Ten title and a high NCAA tourney seed.
It has the makings of a feel-good story that just doesn't feel very good.
DECKER: Things Just Don't Feel Right
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