PORTLAND, Ore. — The Hoosiers know they have a daunting task ahead of them when they play No. 13 seed New Mexico State at 9:45 pm. today. But they also understand how special an opportunity it is to be in the NCAA Tournament, and they’re enjoying every second of it.
The team flew into Portland Monday night, and Tom Crean gave his players most of Tuesday to tour the city and hangout together. Senior Kory Barnett, who used to live in the area, also took his teammates to some of the places he remembered going as a kid.
“He’s always telling us where to go, where to eat,” said junior forward Derek Elston.
The players also saw “Act of Valor” on Tuesday night, a new movie about Navy SEALs that go on a mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent.
“It’s a big deal for us just to be able to hang out with each other,” said junior guard Jordan Hulls, “because it doesn’t happen too much when we’re going full blow into the Big Ten season.”
Crean said days like Tuesday are the ones that bring teams the closest together.
“It’s fun to sit in the front of the bus and listen to them in the back of the bus,” he said. “I may not know everything they’re saying, but that laughter is universal. And those are the things that you really enjoy being a part of.
“I think when it’s all said and done, they’ll remember where they went. They’ll have experiences to think about, but it’s the lasting, shared memories of something somebody said that was silly in the back of the bus or silly at breakfast. That’s the stuff that really builds them when they come back years from now and reminisce about their time.”
Indiana’s Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller and coach Tom Crean met with the media on Thursday at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. Watch both press conferences in the embedded media players below via IU Athletics on YouTube:
A complete transcript is available after the jump.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Watch and listen to what the IU players had to say inside their locker room of the Rose Garden as they prepared for Thursday’s NCAA Tournament game with New Mexico State. High-definition quality video is available in the embedded media players below:
PORTLAND, Ore. — As the No. 15 and No. 16 ranked teams on the NCAA Tournament s-curve, Indiana and Louisville were given little chance of playing close to home for the opening weekend.
As both teams prepare to kick off March Madness in the Pacific Northwest on Thursday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Indiana’s turnaround season that few predicted did not come as a surprise to him.
“I said to most of the Louisville media at the beginning of the year they would be back this year,” Pitino said at the Rose Garden as his 26-9 Louisville team prepared to meet Davidson. “There was no question in my mind they would.”
After struggling through records of 6-25, 10-21 and 12-20 in Tom Crean’s first three seasons, patience was rewarded in year four as the Hoosiers met and surpassed expectations to earn their first tournament berth since 2007.
Pitino said he believes the manner in which Crean went about rebuilding the IU program was the correct path.
“They started with a decimated program, no players,” he said. “And they did it the right way. They did it with fundamentals, they did it with proper recruiting, they did it with integrity.”
With Indiana seemingly back, strong fan presences for both schools in southern Indiana and just 90 miles separating the campuses in Bloomington and Louisville, could the Hoosiers and Cardinals resume a series after not playing for ten years?
“I said to Tom, whenever he’s ready and he gets back to where he wants to be, we’d love to play,” Pitino said. “So it’s strictly his call. I’m sure he’s got enough tough games on his schedule that he may or may not want to do it. Certainly we’d love to do it.”
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Verdell Jones. After four years of hard work and sacrifice, the senior guard won’t get to play when Indiana opens the NCAA Tournament against New Mexico State on Thursday night.
It’s not fair.
But beyond the sympathy surrounding Jones’ torn ACL, there’s a sizable void left on the Hoosiers roster. Jones not only gave the Hoosiers 7.5 points and 3.2 assists per game off the bench, but he was also one of their most experienced on-court leader.
The Hoosiers don’t lack depth behind Jones, but they do lack experienced depth. Freshman Remy Abell figures to get most of Jones’ minutes in the Big Dance, and senior Daniel Moore is next in line.
While Abell has played well at times this season, he’s occasionally shown freshman inconsistency. His best game came at Purdue in early February when Jones was out with a shoulder injury. In that contest, Abell scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including a dagger 3-pointer late that put the Boilermakers away. Abell hasn’t been in double figures in any other game, and he’s averaging only 2.8 points per contest.
Still, the Hoosiers have faith Abell can play a role in their postseason run.
“Remy’s capable, and Verdell’s gotta help him,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said Sunday. “We’re very confident with Remy. You don’t anticipate not having Verdell until the other day, but you figure having depth at the guard spot is gonna be really good for you.”
While Jones won’t be able to help the Hoosiers on the court in the tournament, he can contribute by, as Crean said, helping Abell. Jones and Abell room together for road games, and Jones said he’s in the ear of his understudy as much as possible.
Verdell Jones had waited four years for this moment.
As Indiana was about to be selected to its first NCAA tournament in the Tom Crean era, Jones was all smiles. The senior guard sat in the front row of chairs surrounding the projection screen in the Memorial Stadium’s Henke Hall of Champions, celebrating with teammates that are about to experience something he never will.
Jones won’t get to play in the Big Dance because of a torn ACL injury he suffered against Penn State in last week’s Big Ten Tournament. If he’s feeling sorry for himself, though, he sure isn’t showing it. Jones knows what this moment means for the program and, even though he won’t get to play, he understands the role he’s played in getting Indiana back where it belongs.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Jones said. “I’m happy for our team and all we accomplished to get to this point, but at the same time my heart’s a little saddened because I won’t get to participate in it.”
Jones will be with the team when the 4-seeded Hoosiers travel to Portland to play No. 13 seed New Mexico State on Thursday at approximately 9:45 ET. Most prognosticators had the Hoosiers as a 4-seed, so Indiana coach Tom Crean and his players weren’t overly surprised by the announcement.
Before the season started, the announcement would have been much more surprising. Few projected the Hoosiers to even make the tournament, much less as a top 4 seed.
After a three-year hiatus, Crean said it’s special to get back to the postseason.
“It’s a big deal to have this day,” he said. “When you coach and when you come into Indiana, this day is a really important day but a day everybody got used to. My family got used to this day. And then this day goes away for different reasons, and you can’t ever lose belief that you’re gonna get back to it. We never did.”