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On Sunday afternoon, Dan Dakich said the right things, politically.

“They played great and we did not and that’s my fault,” Dakich said. “If I’m going to be the guy that everybody pats on the back when things go well, then I’m going to be the guy that accepts it when things don’t.”

Bold words for a new coach that has been thrust into center court for what might become the greatest challenge in the history of college basketball: reviving the Indiana Hoosiers from their darkest hour.

Now that Kelvin Sampson is gone (feels like forever ago, doesn’t it?) and Indiana has played its way out of a Big Ten title (assuming either Purdue and Wisconsin — or both — go perfect this week), the big questions are locked in: Just how will Indiana be punished and who will be there to take the reins when the beatings continue?

Sunday might have been a glimpse of what may become of the program in the immediate future. Michigan State, who had faltered recently against Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana, came out swinging and put on what is known around the hardwood as a definitive “clinic.”

After shooting 77.8% from the floor in the first half, including a 75% mark from beyond the arc at 9–12, the Spartans blew out to a 59–31 lead at halftime. That’s more points than they scored against four teams this year for an entire game.

But more than the lopsided victory and more than what was a nail in the coffin of Indiana’s title hopes, is the sense of uncertainty that lies ahead for not just Indiana, but for the Big Ten. Crimson and Cream have helped define the Big Ten as a basketball conference, through and through. Over the years, schools have emerged as major contenders with excellent streaks of play. Recently, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is being applauded for his last work in East Lansing. Gene Keady did it for 25+ years at West Lafayette. Dr. Tom Davis had Iowa on top in the mid-eighties. The Lou-Do made way for Kruger, Self and Weber at Illinois. Clem Haskins at Minnesota, both Bennett and Bo at Wisconsin and Frieder and Fisher at Michigan. All have achieved some levels of great success on a national stage.

But nothing quite like Indiana, especially during the Bobby Knight era.

Now, that is all said and done. The history books are being written as we speak, and there is no clear ending to how the Hoosiers will emerge, not just in 2008–09, but in the years to come. Sanctions loom, players are de-committing and there is a palpable feeling of unrest in Bloomington.

A friend of mine, who works at a record company based in Bloomington, recently told me that he was eating at a diner in town, when he literally watched a retired septuagenarian sell a college kid his season tickets. Not just for the rest of this year, but for some years to follow as well. For the duration of the college kid’s stay, to be clear. Contract and all.

My friend was shocked. Knowing that I write this column, he asked the elderly gentleman, “How long have you had those seats?”

“Thirty-two years,” the man said. “But I just don’t see any point to these next couple. We’re tarnished. We’re pathetic.”

For the moment, that about sums it up.

Let’s see what’s on tap for next week:

Season’s Record: 133–40
Last Week’s Record: 8–2
Big Ten Record: 66–22

TUESDAY, MARCH 4

Purdue 69
Ohio State 65

Northwestern 63
Iowa 60

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 5

Indiana 76
Minnesota 68

Wisconsin 82
Penn State 75

SATURDAY, MARCH 8

Illinois 75
Minnesota 58

Wisconsin 74
Northwestern 72

SUNDAY, MARCH 9

Michigan State 80
Ohio State 77

Penn State 76
Indiana 73

Purdue 71
Michigan 66