Not since Bob Knight guided Indiana to the top of the Big Ten more than two decades ago have the Hoosiers won an outright conference championship.
Coach Tom Crean has the program in position to finally end that drought.
Top-ranked Indiana looks to move a step closer to a Big Ten title by sweeping the season series with fading Minnesota on Tuesday night in Minneapolis.
The Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2), coming off a hard-fought 72-68 win at then-No. 4 Michigan State last Tuesday, are atop arguably the nation's toughest conference, which features five top-20 teams.
A win over Minnesota would give Indiana a two-game lead over the Spartans with three games remaining in the regular season as it chases its first outright Big Ten championship since 1992-93 - the program's last conference title under Knight.
The Hoosiers shared the 2001-02 championship with Illinois and Wisconsin before falling to Maryland in the national title game, and Crean's current team has a solid chance to deliver another trophy.
He knows it will be a tough road, though, beginning with Tuesday's matchup with the Golden Gophers. Indiana closes the season with Iowa on Saturday, No. 16 Ohio State on March 5 and at No. 4 Michigan on March 10.
"You get incredible games (in the Big Ten) and you've got to have some high-level performances to win those games," Crean said. "Where we're at a point right now where we're not only getting ready for Minnesota, but making sure our skill level continues to rise.
"We know it's going to be another high-level, high-energy, high-intensity Big Ten battle on Tuesday night."
The first meeting Jan. 26 featured a pair of top-10 teams, as the then-No. 5 Hoosiers defeated then-No. 8 Minnesota 88-81 in Bloomington.
The Golden Gophers (18-9, 6-8) entered that contest 15-1, but the defeat was the first in a stretch of eight losses in 11 games. After a 58-53 overtime win over then-No. 20 Wisconsin on Feb. 14, Minnesota was blown out 72-51 at Iowa on Feb. 17 before Wednesday's 71-45 defeat at Ohio State.
"We're in a bit of a quandary losing our last two games the way we have," coach Tubby Smith said. "We know we're going to be facing the best team in the country and they certainly deserve their ranking based on what we've seen."
Stopping Victor Oladipo may be Minnesota's toughest challenge.
Oladipo furthered his case for conference player of the year honors against Michigan State, scoring clutch baskets down the stretch as part of a 19-point, nine-rebound, five-steal performance despite an injured ankle.
Crean said Oladipo, who hit 8 of 10 from the field and scored 20 points in the first meeting with the Gophers, is getting back to full strength.
"I think he'll be fine," Crean said. "What level he's at we'll just have to wait and see (Tuesday)."
Smith is hoping forward Rodney Williams, who has been battling through an injured shoulder, will be able to provide big minutes in this contest. He played only eight against Ohio State, and Smith said he's considering starting sophomore Elliott Eliason and bringing Williams off the bench.
No matter who is on the court for the Gophers, they'll need to keep the turnovers to a minimum against a Hoosiers team that forces a league-best 15.0 per game.
Minnesota commits a league-high 14.1 turnovers per contest, including a season-high 24 versus the Buckeyes. The Gophers had 17 at Indiana last month.
"It's been such a problem; so prevalent, so talked about," Smith said. "We've got to stay away from that and try and have a little more fun."
The Gophers have scored only 51.4 points per game over their last five, but Crean isn't about to take them lightly.
"We're only focused on the games they've played their best and how they played against us and the pressure that they brought," Crean said. "We're focused on the best Minnesota has to offer."
The Associated Press News Service
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