Judgment Week. Rivalry Week. Championship Week. Bracketbuster Week.
TV networks love to create a catch phrase to make fans pay attention through a sometimes long and grueling college basketball season.
As IU fans know, you can skip the teases. No more hype is required.
For the Hoosiers (23-3, 11-2 Big Ten), this week is once again the same as it has been for the past month or so: The Most Important Week Since Last Week.
And that could not be any more true than this week, starting tonight (7 p.m. ESPN) when No. 1 IU goes to Big Ten co-leader No. 8 Michigan State.
The Spartans (22-4, 11-2) will be looking for revenge after a 75-70 loss in Bloomington last month in which Hoosier fans were especially inhospitable hosts to former Mr. Basketball Gary Harris, who led Michigan State with 21 points.
It will be the toughest environment IU has faced all year. The Spartans destroyed No. 4 Michigan last Tuesday, 75-52, bullying one of the nation’s top offenses into a season-high 16 turnovers and 39 percent shooting.
Harris, who has solidified a claim as the best freshman in the Big Ten, led MSU with 17 points (5 of 9 on 3-pointers).
A few mean-spirited IU student chants directed at Harris’ mother in Bloomington will give the Hamilton Southeastern product extra incentive in the rematch.
(Is it just me, or is this in-your-face student bravado starting to go too far? I suddenly miss the days when Bob Knight would grab the microphone mid-game and scold, “We don’t do that at Indiana”).
The Hoosiers’ fate may rest in the gimpy ankle of Victor Oladipo, which he rolled early in Saturday’s win against Purdue. The junior was virtually unstoppable in the first encounter, with 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals and three blocks in the most complete game by an IU player in recent memory.
This is also an intriguing coaching matchup. In the first game, Tom Izzo’s Spartans were able to neutralize IU’s inside presence, holding Cody Zeller to nine points. Indiana’s Tom Crean put pressure on Michigan point guard Keith Appling, forcing him to the bench with foul trouble.
The one thing for certain is that the dynamics will change tonight. You must game plan looking ahead, not looking back.
That means Zeller and Appling may step up big.
As usual when these two teams meet, the game will be decided by which side can impose its defensive will. Can the Spartans keep the Hoosiers from running? Can IU frustrate MSU’s half-court sets?
Just as important, the Hoosiers will have to withstand a Breslin Center crowd that will be every bit as rabid as opponents face at Assembly Hall. How much did the Hoosiers learn from a road letdown at Illinois?
Big game? Yes.
But the Hoosiers have been here before.
Three weeks ago, it was Showdown Week, with then-No. 1 Michigan the focus.
Two weeks back, it was Redemption Week, when they rebounded from the Illini loss with a whitewash of then-No. 10 Ohio State.
Last time out, it was Trap Week, as the Hoosiers took care of business against Nebraska and the Boilers.
Another week, another slogan.
Call it what you will. Every week matters when you are the No. 1 team in the nation.
As the weeks go by, the stakes go up for the Hoosiers. With just three weeks remaining until the postseason, get used to it.
Welcome to The Most Important Week Since Last Week.