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Holiday World has nothing on this league

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At Holiday World, the folks who design those monster roller coasters just might be working on their next thrill ride.

Let’s call it Big Ten Hoops.

Start with the anticipation, months’ worth, as universal preconference success in November and December finally yields to conference basketball with the new year.

Throw in a ride to the top, with jump shots replacing the click, click, click of the coaster.

You know what follows. A plunge downward so quick it takes your breath away. But, there is little time to despair, as the path hurls you upward again.

And so it goes.

In the past week or so, IU fans especially have seen peaks and valleys that would make any coaster enthusiast scream with terror and squeal with delight.

An impressive home-court triumph against then-No. 1 Michigan vaulted the Hoosiers to the top spot.

From there, IU played like anything but the best team in the country in a late implosion at struggling Illinois.

Next followed Sunday’s redemption, a complete road dismantling of No. 10 Ohio State.

That left the Hoosiers in a tie for first with Michigan State at 9-2. Michigan, Wisconsin and the Buckeyes are all within two games.

“It was putting teams away, playing to win and not just playing for the time to run out,” Cody Zeller said of the lessons learned from that upset loss Thursday at Illinois. “So, we made that adjustment pretty well.”

The 7-foot Zeller, nicknamed the “Big Handsome,” was particularly effective in putting that into practice, commanding the ball and patrolling the paint with a more imposing presence.

When Zeller is aggressive, the Hoosiers are unstoppable. His presence opens up the offense in a way that turns the Hoosiers’ other offensive weapons up a notch.

Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford benefit when Zeller is able to command a double team.

This week gives IU a break of sorts in the rugged conference race, as Nebraska and Purdue visit. A showdown at No. 12 Michigan State follows Feb. 19 (the Spartans host Michigan tonight).

Through all the twists and turns, Big Ten fans are being treated to one of the best conference title races in some time.

While IU and Michigan fans especially can lament the battle as their top teams struggle at times, the fact is simply that the league is stacked.

No one is going to run away with this. There is simply too much balance.

As the Hoosiers’ four-minute brain-fade in Champaign showed, even the best can take a quick plunge, leaving the stomachs of fans wrenching and wondering what the next turn will bring.

Enjoy the ride. If you wanted a tame experience, you came to the wrong place.

Step right up.

This is a roller coaster, and every fan has a ticket.

Move over Holiday World. Big Ten Hoops has arrived.

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