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GameDay sets stage for showdown

First, it was former Notre Dame basketball coach and current ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, who gave the crowd at Assembly Hall a pep talk after they had lined up in the cold beginning just after 6 a.m.

IU players spent a short time on the court during Saturday's College GameDay festivities, but most of the focus fell on ESPN analysts and fans and their interactions.

Then it was Jay Bilas, who wore his new pair of candy-striped pants while walking onto Branch McCracken Court prior to ESPN’s College GameDay on Saturday morning.

Next, Rece Davis, another ESPN analyst, walked onto the court with another pair of candy-striped pants to prepare to talk about No. 3 IU’s Saturday night game against No. 1 Michigan.

All three of them received thunderous applause and positive chants.

Then, former Michigan basketball player and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose stepped on to the floor, wearing no red at all. Instead, he wore a dark suit and tie. The IU fans gathered weren’t pleased.

Luckily, a fan sitting near the GameDay desk had a red-and-white striped jacket for Rose to wear, which he did to large applause.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” Rose said. “I came in thinking I was looking as clean as the board of health and whatnot, and all of a sudden, the fanbase would not have it.”

The interaction with Rose was one of a number of moments during Saturday morning’s College GameDay festivities when the gathered IU fans, players and ESPN analysts engaged each other. Fans tried to urge Bilas to show off his pants to the cameras, cheered wildly for IU highlights, laughed along with members of the IU team and booed any mention of the Wolverines.

One of the more passionate boos came when Rose picked his alma mater to beat Indiana.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the country,” Rose said of the Wolverines. “You’ve got to give credit where credit is due, but I would not be surprised at all if Indiana won. They’re that good. I wouldn’t be surprised if these teams play four times this year, so I expect some great things out of this matchup.”

Both Rose and Phelps mentioned four possible meetings between IU and Michigan — Saturday’s game, a March 10 meeting in Ann Arbor, a possible Big Ten Championship and a possible NCAA Tournament game.

One of the key players in the game will be Michigan’s sophomore Trey Burke, who plays the same position Rose did — point guard. When asked if Burke had a place among the greatest Michigan point guards ever, Rose spoke well of Burke.

“He’d have to be right up there,” Rose said. “I’m pretty sure he has some more work to do, but guys like Gary Grant and Rumeal Robinson, and I played a couple of years there. He definitely has put himself in that position to be in that conversation.”

Rose, who played in Assembly Hall while he was a Wolverine, knows how a hostile road environment in a big game can affect a visiting team. His Michigan team lost all three games it played at Assembly Hall, which he acknowledged. In terms of watching tonight’s game, Rose said he will be on the edge of his seat and prepared for a battle.

“It’s hard to not get emotionally intoxicated,” Rose said. “It helps the home team, it hurts the road team. You take that bad shot, you get that bad foul, all of a sudden, you ignite an 8-0 run or you put the guy on the line that’s an 85 percent free-throw shooter. You’ve got to find your matchups, you’ve got to pay attention to the scouting reports and continue to stay in the moment.”

While talking to the crowd and to media members after the event, Phelps spoke at length about the meaning of the No. 1 ranking coming into Assembly Hall. He said the atmosphere early in the morning reflected the importance of the game awaiting Hoosier fans at 9 p.m. Saturday.

"It's hard not to," Phelps said of IU's fans being excited. "It's got nothing to do with Michigan, its the tag, No. 1."

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