Indiana back on top of poll

Indiana back on top of poll

February 5th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

It's been a pretty good last few days for Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean.

First, his Hoosiers knocked off then No. 1 Michigan on Saturday night with ESPN's "GameDay" crew in the Hoosiers' house. Then he flew to New Orleans on Sunday in time to watch brother-in-law John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens edge fellow brother-in-law Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Now if his Hoosiers can just finish the season where they started -- at No. 1, the spot they again hold in the newest Associated Press poll -- all again will be right in the program Robert Montgomery Knight guided to three of the school's five NCAA titles, though none since 1987.

"Our guys appreciate winning," Crean said on a Big Ten Conference call Monday after what he termed a "short night" following the Super Bowl. "They appreciate the task that it is, and I think because our older guys have been through so many hard times, they appreciate it that much more."

So many hard times. When Mike Davis guided the Hoosiers to the 2002 national championship game against Maryland after replacing Knight in the fall of 2000, it was impossible to imagine the collapse that would befall one of college basketball's five most storied programs.

But Davis eventually wore out his welcome, and replacement Kelvin Sampson committed NCAA recruiting violations. By the time Crean took over in the spring of 2008, he was down to two walk-ons for the upcoming season.

Naturally, the Hoosiers struggled mightily, winning just eight of their first 54 Big Ten games in Crean's first three seasons, a 12-20 mark during the 2010-11 season their best overall mark.

Then came last year and the Hoosiers hurried back to the nation's elite. They beat No. 1 Kentucky, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan State during the regular season, then forced the eventual national champion Wildcats to hit 35 of 37 free throws to subdue them in a Sweet 16 game.

"We've been playing with a chip on our shoulder since the day I got here," junior wing Victor Oladipo said after Saturday's big win over the Wolverines. "We've got to continue to play with that chip, because it can be taken away at any time."

The Hoosiers' preseason No. 1 ranking was taken away in late December after an overtime loss to Butler. Their lone setback since was at home against Wisconsin.

Now 22-2 overall and 8-1 in the Big Ten, Crean's team is putting together the kind of season of which championships are made. Not only are the Hoosiers winning by more than 20 points a game (83.8 to 61.0), they're hitting over 50 percent of their field-goal triess (42 percent from the 3-point line) while holding their opponents to 38 percent and out-rebounding opponents by more than 10 a game (40.2 to 30.0).

And don't even think of fouling them. They're shooting 74 percent from the foul line.

"They don't have one guy who beats you up; they beat you up so many different ways," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams after the Hoosiers beat the Tar Heels every which way but loose in an 83-59 win early in the season.

"They have a lot of weapons and they play really hard on the defensive end of the floor."

Those weapons begin with sophomore center Cody Zeller, who averages 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. Oladipo checks in next at 14 points and 5.8 rebounds a game. Christian Watford -- the Kentucky killer in last season's buzzer-beating win over UK -- averages 12.9 points and 6.7 rebounds.

Overall, nine players average 10 or more minutes.

Yet good as Zeller is, it may be the obscenely athletic Oladipo -- who also hits over 50 percent of his 3s -- who may most drive the Hoosiers.

"Oladipo just plays so hard," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo after a recent loss at Indiana. "He's the Ray Lewis of college basketball."

And just as Lewis just walked into retirement with a Super Bowl ring under the artful coaching of Crean's brother-in-law, Oladipo expects a similar result for the Hoosiers come April inside the Georgia Dome at the Final Four.

"We're family," he said over the weekend. "If we keep playing for each other, the sky is the limit."

Or at least Indiana's sixth NCAA crown.