One roll of a ball gives IU a Big Ten title

Indiana's last-minute win over Michigan secured an outright Big Ten title. AP Photo/Duane Burleson

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The ball hit the front of the rim, rolled seemingly all around the rim almost clear to the back. Every bounce it took, it appeared Jordan Morgan's last-second layup for Michigan would fall.

The fate of four Big Ten basketball teams rested on whether the ball would drop in or bounce out. Reality can be altered during these moments, when the entire world seems to slow down to make each microsecond feel like an hour.

“Forever,” said Indiana center Cody Zeller, describing how long the ball hung onto the rim.

That moment was an actual forever moment for Indiana. The Hoosiers had waited 20 years to win a Big Ten championship outright -- a period that spanned the end of the Bob Knight era and the entirety of Mike Davis' and Kelvin Sampson's tenures. They have waited through the highs of a Final Four appearance and the lows of a scandal, which shredded a proud program.

Twenty years hung on that rim.

“I thought the ball went in,” Michigan guard Trey Burke said. “It looked like it went all the way down and came back up.” Around it went before falling away, leaving Michigan -- which had the chance for back-to-back shared Big Ten titles -- standing on the court stunned as Indiana stormed the Crisler Center floor. The Hoosiers came from five points down in the final minute to beat the Wolverines 72-71.

This is life in the Big Ten this season, in which almost every big game came down to the final minute and final possession. It capped a Big Ten season that had everything: a league with the top two candidates for the Wooden Award in Burke and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo; the potential for the conference to have three All-Americans in Burke, Oladipo and Zeller; and six teams that spent at least one week in the top 10 of The Associated Press poll.

Of all the drama and intensity from this Big Ten season, its best game might have been the league's penultimate contest.

The lead changed 15 times. It saw Burke and Oladipo go one-on-one -- especially when Indiana switched Oladipo on to Burke late in the first half, a decision that helped turn the game for the Hoosiers. Burke scored 20 points, but it came on an inefficient 20 shots. He also had four turnovers, only the fifth time this season the sophomore had four or more in a game.

It saw Zeller, the preseason national player of the year, score a game-high 25 points, including the game-winner with 13 seconds left to give the Hoosiers the lead for good. He looked like the player many people anticipated he would be for every game this season.

“The Michigan game, the Michigan State game, this one certainly was really built up,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “Games that are high-level games that get a lot of attention and then they live up to the hype.”

Hype surrounded Indiana and the Big Ten. The top end of the league had so much talent, and were all brand names in the college basketball world, meaning there would be even more attention to this game, this season.

Every top team in the conference had some combination of those games this season. Every team in the conference had back-to-back games against teams in the Top 25 this season. Five of them had back-to-back games against top-10 teams.

The season came down to that last minute, when Michigan missed three free throws on the front-ends of one-and-ones. It was reminiscent of a game between Michigan and Indiana two seasons ago in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines almost saw a victory slip away due to poor free throw shooting in the final minute before holding on to win, 73-69. Those two teams were two years away from a moment when a Big Ten title would be on the line. The missed free throws added more tension across three states in the heart of the Big Ten.

Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan needed the Wolverines to hang on again for a quad championship. Indiana did not. The Hoosiers, which lost their first chance to win the Big Ten title outright on Tuesday against the Buckeyes to set up this situation, needed the mini-collapse to clinch the title.

It left it all down to one final roll on the rim. It hit the front. The side.

And out. Right to Indiana to win the Big Ten all on its own.