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Indiana basketball vs. Iowa: Your de facto Big Ten Championship series is here, kinda

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Penn State loss or not, no two games will go further in deciding the Big Ten title race in 2016 than the two between Indiana and Iowa. And the winner of the first will have the inside track at the title come March.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Stuff You Need To Know

WHAT? Big Ten Championship Series, Kinda, first leg

WHO? #4 IOWA (19-4, 10-1) at #22 Indiana (19-5, 9-2)

WHERE? Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana

WHEN? 9pm, Thursday

WATCH? ESPN, WatchESPN

VEGAS? Iowa -2

KENPOM? Iowa by 2, 77-75, with a 56% chance of victory

THIS IS THE BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR IN THE BIG TEN TO DATE. SERIOUSLY. JUST LISTEN AND CHILL MARYLAND FANS.

Iowa and Indiana were two teams designated to be deserted in the basketball badlands in November. These were teams to be picked at by buzzards, wasting from the inside-out due to coaching problems, or roster attrition, or Crean, or whatever diagnosis that leads you to lose to Division II teams or Monmouth or multiple games against sub-par competition on a tropical island. You were supposed to panic, or you did exactly such, as you were lead to believe November competition is ultimately predictive of results later in a collegiate basketball season. Everyone freaked out, and you probably did too -- whether you live closer to Cedar Rapids or Indianapolis. Instantaneous reaction is what we're conditioned for in our sporting culture today, and stating that something is not great but probably ultimately fine isn't acceptable. My team lost and I have to be mad about something, dammit. CREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN.

And you're well within your right to do that, too. There's no constitutional provision that inhibits you from being Mad About Sports all the dang time. But in Assembly Hall tomorrow, you'll have a matchup of two teams that wholly validate the wait-and-see approach when it comes to early-seasons college basketball opinions. Iowa looked not good. Indiana might have looked downright bad.

And nine-or-so weeks later, both sit with the Big Ten title race full in their own control. For Iowa, two matchups, home-and-road, against Indiana present the toughest tests remaining among a weak closing stretch en route to a conference title and possible top overall seed come March. For Indiana, it's an opportunity to not only keep themselves in the title race -- but other Big Ten teams as well. Maryland's title chances likely swing on Indiana dealing the Hawkeyes at least one loss through this series of games -- and Purdue's dangling hopes likely count on a Hoosier sweep. But for Indiana, the equation is simple: sweep the week of matchups against Iowa and Michigan State and effectively set up a two-game, early-March tournament against Iowa and Maryland for the Big Ten title.

And, no, that's not a mistake -- two Indiana wins this week would effectively render the Purdue game irrelevant in the title picture if the Hoosiers avoid tripping up at Illinois and Nebraska. Indiana could lose to Purdue at home by 50, and still go on to win the Big Ten title. I would be 100% okay with this.

Strap in y'all. This is gonna be fun.

HERE, WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?

Four Factors

eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (#22 Adj. Offense) 59.6% (2nd) 20.6% (302th) 38.0% (11th) 34.2% (234th)
IOWA (#11 Adj. Defense) 46.1% (43rd) 19.1% (135th) 31.0% (228th) 24.5% (4th)

eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (#48 Adj. Defense) 48.3% (108th) 19.5% (105st) 28.3% (100th) 30.4% (47th)
IOWA (#7 Adj. Offense) 53.5% (36th) 14.2% (4th) 31.0% (136th) 31.7% (296th)

Penn State loss or not, Indiana is still exceptionally good at one thing: making the ball go in the basket. And where road games often pull those eFG% numbers down for Indiana (they averaged less than 1 point per possession at Penn State), home contests pull them back up. It's obvious that Indiana's a far better home-shooting and home-scoring team than they are on the road, so there's reason to believe that Indiana can hold to these numbers at home against a good-but-not-smothering Iowa defense.

So, if KenPom's taking Iowa, what breaks in favor of the Hawkeyes? Check those turnover numbers. Iowa's three-quarter court defense allows for decent turnover-creation. What does Indiana do at a nearly unmatched rate in power conference basketball among good teams? Turn the ball over. What does Iowa not do? Turn the ball over. This equation is simple. Indiana shoots the ball better than Iowa, but if Indiana doesn't have the opportunity to shoot said ball, this won't matter.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Who the heck's gonna guard Jarrod Uthoff & Peter Jok?

Indiana's able to match up decently well down low and at the point guard position, but guarding Iowa's two dynamic wing players might be a problem. Indianal likely has three players that can match up with the 6'9" Uthoff and the 6'6" Jok -- Collin Hartman, OG Anunoby, and Troy Williams. Each will have to take their share of minutes on each, but how does Tom Crean prioritize the matchups? Will he choose to put whatever he feels the best defender Indiana has to offer on Jok and allow for the National Player Of The Year candidate to just "get his?" Will OG Anunoby see more minutes? All things to watch tomorrow night.

PREDICTION

Last year's Indiana-Iowa game provided the single most uncomfortable sporting atmosphere I've ever been around when Indiana fans turned on the program and staff, spewing vitriol and booing the team off the floor in the midst of a blowout loss to Iowa. Combine those bad memories with the recent Penn State loss and the massive opportunity to take control of the conference title race, and one would this Indiana team would be as charged up and ready for this moment on national television. We've talked about Yogi Ferrell needing his signature moment, and how much is left to write ahead of him in this final two months of his collegiate career. Given these circumstances and Indiana's propensity to shoot the ball well at home, things (untangible, unquantifiable things) seem to bode well for the Hoosiers here. This has the possibility to be one of college basketball's best games of the 2016 season. Let's hope it lives up to the hype -- and, for Indiana fans, sets up the second matchup to really mean something down the stretch. Indiana 86, Iowa 84.