DAYTON, Ohio — Indiana was the nation’s preseason No. 1 team. The Hoosiers are a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. As a result, there are a lot of people picking the Hoosiers to win it all. That includes President Barack Obama, who chose Indiana as his national championship when he filled out with bracket with ESPN’s Andy Katz on Tuesday.
“It is pretty neat. I haven’t agreed with some of the other decision’s that he’s made,” Indiana center Cody Zeller said, smiling. “No, I’m gonna get in trouble for this. I fully agree with everything that Obama does.”
Obama has been filling out a bracket annually since he took office in 2009, with mixed results. He correctly picked North Carolina to win the title in ’09, but incorrectly selected Kansas in 2010 and 2011 and North Carolina last season.
“I think it’s really good, but I’m also concerned that someone said that he was 1-3 in his picks before,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “So you’re always going to be — you hope he’s right on this one.”
Who is James Madison?
On Thursday afternoon at the University of Dayton Arena, the Indiana players were asked this question at their press conference: Do you guys know who James Madison, the figure, is?
He signed the Declaration or something like that,” Victor Oladipo responded. “You mean the person, right? James Madison, he signed something big, like the Declaration of Independence. I’m right, right? Emancipation Proclamation, something like that. One of those big names. I know he’s a big historic figure in U.S. history.”
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Against the odds, Indiana clinched sole possession of the Big Ten title. That’s the way it was supposed to be, though. Right?
Think about it. This Indiana team, at least the seniors and the juniors on it, started from the bottom with nothing ever handed to them. They grew into the nation’s No. 1 team, became everyone’s pick to win the national title after a road win at Michigan State, and then fell off again.
A loss at Minnesota had some questioning the Hoosiers’ toughness. A home defeat against Ohio State on Tuesday night brought even more questions.
Maybe clinching a conference crown at home on Senior Night would have been top idealistic. Would have seemed too perfect, too easy. Nothing for these seniors has ever come that way.
Instead, the Hoosiers went on the road to Michigan, where no team had won this season and only one had won in the last two years, and pulled out a fairly miraculous win.
They looked disorganized and sloppy in the first half, and trailed by five points with only 52 seconds left. The Big Ten title was bound to be split between four teams.
But the Hoosiers, much like they did in East Lansing last month, found a way to win with big plays at the end.
Indiana 72, Michigan 71. The Hoosiers have their first championship of the season.
“It just gives us momentum,” said Indiana forward Will Sheehey. “We needed to win the Big Ten title outright. We stumbled our last couple weeks, but we just stuck with it together.”
If it was just a share?
“It definitely wouldn’t feel this sweet,” guard Remy Abell said.
Other than when they jumped out to a 10-3 lead, the Hoosiers looked unlike themselves in the first half. Shots didn’t go, lineups didn’t make sense and the edge didn’t seem to be there.
Despite playing much better in the second stanza, Indiana still trailed by five with 52 seconds left. Michigan makes free throws and protects the ball, the game is over.
But Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke each missed the front end of one and ones, and Cody Zeller scored six straight points to put the Hoosiers back on top.
Indiana started off 2013 with an impressive performance as the Hoosiers crushed Penn State 74-51 on Monday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. Here’s a look at five takeaways from IU’s fifth straight win:
· What road problems? Yes, Indiana finished 3-6 last year on the road in the Big Ten. But dating back to last season, the Hoosiers are now 4-1 over their last five true road games and comfortably dispatched of Penn State on Monday. The Nittany Lions might finish in the Big Ten’s cellar, but the win moved IU to 2-0 in the league and most impressive of all, the start to this game left little doubt on the eventual outcome. After trailing 3-2 following a 3-pointer from Brandon Taylor, IU reeled off a 13-0 run and maintained a comfortable margin the rest of the way. Two straight road wins to open the conference season will certainly build confidence from within that this group can continue to win away from Assembly Hall.
· An assertive Watford is a major plus: After IU’s win at Iowa, I wrote that Christian Watford wasn’t the difference in the win, but he was a critical factor. In State College, Watford was even more assertive offensively early than he was in Iowa City. In the game’s opening four minutes, Watford finished two plays at the rim (one of which resulted in a 3-point play) and also buried a 3-pointer. Watford has been criticized frequently for failing to finish plays around the basket, but his field goal percentage at the rim has increased from 54 percent last season to 58 percent so far this year. After failing to record a rebound in IU’s win over Florida Atlantic on Dec. 22, Watford now has 22 rebounds over his last three games.
· Indiana fills it up from the perimeter: It wasn’t nearly the performance put forth last January at Penn State, but IU used the 3-point line efficiently on Monday and it was a collective effort. In total, five different players connected from distance, including Jordan Hulls, who bounced back from an 0-for-10 performance from the field at Iowa. Victor Oladipo connected on his only 3-point attempt and is now at 47.8 percent on the season. Remy Abell continues to take the perimeter shot when it’s available and is now 12-of-20 from outside after shooting just 6-of-15 last season. In total, Indiana now has five players with eleven or more 3-pointers made and Will Sheehey owns the lowest percentage at 39.4.
Indiana couldn’t buy a basket. The No. 1 Hoosiers didn’t look anything like the team that carefully demolished North Carolina on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t necessarily that the energy or effort was lacking, but the Hoosiers struggled to get anything going in what turned into a sloppy first half.
As soon as the second 20 minutes began, Victor Oladipo changed all that. The junior forward stole a Coppin State pass on the first play of the second half and finished a dunk that awoke the Assembly Hall crowd. Oladipo continued to create havoc on the defensive end for the rest of the night and was a major reason why Indiana (8-0) cruised to an 87-51 victory on Saturday night.
“We had to find a way to get the pace going our way,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “They came in with a mindset and a gameplan, and that gameplan was to be deliberate at times. We wanted to take care of the ball, but we wanted to get the pace our way. And they made that hard for awhile.”
In an effort to change the pace and make the game more uptempo, Crean decided to go with a full-court trapping press in the second half. He took his team into the hallway outside the locker room at halftime and had them walk through their individual roles.
“They were very alert and attentive, it was quick,” Crean said. “We just wanted to make sure we knew what our shifts were going to be, and they went in and played hard. It was more of a reminder, more of a focus-centered thing.”
Crean put Oladipo at the top of the press, and the athletic forward gave the Eagles fits in the backcourt. Crean said Oladipo had 20 deflections in the game, a record for a player during Crean’s tenure at Indiana. The only player with more single-game deflections during Crean’s coaching career was Dwyane Wade, who once recorded 23 in a game for Marquette.
Oladipo also had 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 26 minutes.
“When you’re at the top of that zone, you’ve got to make them think you’re guarding him but you’re not guarding him,” Oladipo said. “I’ve been doing that for so long. We ran that press in high school as well. I’m glad he put me up there. It’s fun getting steals.
“We score in transition and we score in multiple ways but, essentially, we score off our defense. We got to continue playing defense at a high level so we can win big.”
Oladipo said there was no rhyme or reason for the Hoosiers’ slow start. It was just one of those nights where they couldn’t find an offensive rhythm for stretches at a time. Indiana missed its first nine shots from the field and trailed 9-2 at one point early in the first half.
“We were just missing shots, to be honest with you,” Oladipo said. “I don’t feel like we were unprepared to play the game or we came in second-guessing ourselves or playing down to the competition or thinking about the last game. We just didn’t make shots. We’re basketball players – everything we shoot is not going to go in the basket. But we did a pretty good job of bouncing back from that.”