Five Indiana players scored in double figures as the Hoosiers toppled top-ranked Michigan, 81-73, Saturday.
***Video: Post-game report from Assembly Hall - click here***
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – This is what the Indiana University basketball team did to earn the Number One ranking at the start of this season: Not much.
The Hoosiers beat New Mexico State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Then they handled VCU, winning on their final possession. Then they scored 90 points in a 12-point loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
I remember when I broke the news to Tom Crean that USA Today was going to rank his team Number One to start this season. He was amused.
"We hadn't done anything," Crean said.
This is what the Hoosiers have done to position themselves to be voted Number One again on Monday: Flashed the offense, defense and poise to beat Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan over the last seven days.
That's scoring 75 points against a Michigan State team that can defend against anybody. A 37-point road win against an in-state rival. And then an 81-73 victory over a flashy Wolverines' team that followed Duke, which followed Louisville, which followed Duke, which followed Indiana as the Number One team in the nation.
Now the Hoosiers have won eight of nine games in the Big Ten. Now they have shown they are more than simply a one- or two-man team. Now they have shown they belong with Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Louisville, Duke or whatever team you believe should be considered the best team in the nation. The deck will continue to be shuffled. Just deal Indiana in.
"I've got two brother-in-laws (the Harbaugh brothers) going in the Super Bowl (today)," Crean said. "And their mantra for the team is, ‘The team, the team, the team.'
"It was Bo Schembechler's. It was Jack Harbaugh's. It's those guys. We've got the same thing in the Cook Hall gym. To me, one thing I heard a long time ago was that the star of the team is the team."
His guys are grasping that. This is not the same Indiana team that defeated Georgetown and North Carolina in November. It's not the same group that lost to Butler in December.
In the victories against Michigan State and Michigan, they didn't look like the same team that was beaten in this building by Wisconsin Jan. 15. They're defending, sharing, gaining a bit of swagger. A Michigan team that normally makes 51 percent of its shots made only 42.9 percent against Indiana. It's not just offense, although the offense had five guys who score 11 or more points.
"We're unselfish," said Jordan Hulls, IU's senior guard. "We don't care who scores. If we do that, we can be pretty good."
Cody Zeller played like he intends to make his way back on a few more magazine covers. He started this season as the frontrunner for the Wooden Award. Then he watched Michigan guard Trey Burke, Doug McDermott of Creighton, Russ Smith of Louisville and several others push him out of the headlines.
Zeller returned to the conversation against the Wolverines, playing a persistently efficient game. He took 10 shots and made eight. He scored 19 points. He grabbed 10 rebounds, his fourth double-double in his last six games. He blocked two shots. He chased down the most important long rebound of the game in the final minute and a half. His hands spent more time above the rim than they had all season.
But Indiana is more than Zeller. Much more than Zeller. The Hoosiers have been for several weeks – and will have to be for the next nine games if they intend to win a Big Ten championship, which would be the program's first in 11 season.
Add Michigan coach John Beilein to the list of guys who believe that Victor Oladipo belongs in the discussion for a spot on the all-American team. Oladipo's 15 points were critical, but not as critical as the way he chased Burke, Michigan wing Tim Hardaway Jr. and two others across the court.
How is this for a stat? ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said that Oladipo guarded four different Wolverines over 45 possessions -- and allowed four points.
"I don't know if I have seen one quicker or faster, more athletic player than Oladipo," Beilein said. "It's tough to stay in front of him.
"Several times when we were making those runs, he would get to the basket. He may miss, but that's where Zeller was cleaning up."
But those two guys are not the growth in Crean's team. The growth has come from Christian Watford, Yogi Ferrell and Hulls, the other three starters.
For more than three years, Crean has urged Watford to become more than a three-point shooter. Against Michigan, only one of Watford's four baskets came from the three-point line. He carried the Hoosiers with 10 rebounds and scored 14 points, muscling his way to the line for five free throws. Indiana is better when Watford plays like a power forward, not a shooter.
Hulls forced nothing, scoring his 11 points on only five shots, turning the ball over one time in 30 minutes. Ferrell, the freshman point guard, did not shoot free throws line a freshman. He shot eight. He made eight, six in the final 39 seconds as he finished with 14 points and five assists. That's a rookie handling a veteran's job
Said Crean, "The more that guys like Cody and Victor and Christian and Jordan understand that, the more they understand they are the product of their teammates, the better we are."
The last three teams voted Number One in the Associated Press poll have not stayed there longer than a week. Will the Hoosiers be any different?
It won't be easy. It's not a wise bet. They face a pair of road games this week – Thursday night at Illinois, Sunday afternoon at Ohio State. Indiana has not won in Champaign or Columbus since 2008. In other words, no players or coaches know the way
But on Monday, they should be Number One – and a different, more legitimate Number One team than they were in November.