Posted November 08, 2012 on AP on Fox
Jordan Hulls walks into Assembly Hall wearing a T-shirt that reads "How Sweet It Is," a phrase intended to celebrate Indiana's return to the NCAA tournament regional semifinals last spring. This fall, those words have a whole new meaning. After spending three years in the abyss and another year trying to prove themselves, the Hoosiers are ranked No. 1 and squarely in the discussion about the national championship. Indiana, which kicks off its season Friday night against Bryant at Assembly Hall, is back. Finally. "It could be a really special year and everybody is anxious to start seeing what this team is capable of," junior guard Victor Oladipo said with his usual exuberance. "It's the stuff you dream about, trying to chase this one goal that everyone is trying to chase." Outsiders certainly believe Indiana has the combination to do that this season. For the first time since 1979-80, and only the third time in school history, the Hoosiers open a season ranked No. 1. Sophomore center Cody Zeller is the early favorite to be the Big Ten player of the year, and the campaigning to make him this year's national player of the year is in full swing, too. Indiana basketball tickets are again one of the hottest items in the state. Coach Tom Crean's team, though, will be a bit shorthanded without freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin. The 6-foot-8 forward and 7-foot center were each suspended nine games by the NCAA and are required to repay a portion of the impermissible benefits they received to a charity of their choice. Crean was hired in April 2008 to clean things up after an embarrassing NCAA phone-call scandal tainted the school's pristine image and gutted the roster. He promised to restore the program's image, its national prestige and to win championships with a team that would make everyone proud. Nobody expected the long road back to be easy, least of all Crean, who had only two returning players, both walk-ons, in that first season. Crean remembers it well. Indiana crashed to 6-25, losing to the likes of Lipscomb and barely avoided losing to Division II school Chaminade in the seventh-place game at the Maui Invitational. It was ugly. "We had no leadership that year,'' Crean said. "You look around pro and college sports, you take the leader out of a business and the business will be affected. Now you take the leadership out of a program, and the players don't have anyone to look up to, nobody who's been through that. We had to grow into that. We could have signed junior college kids, but it wouldn't have made any difference because they hadn't been through Indiana and neither had we." While Hulls was busy winning the state's 2009 Mr. Basketball Award, he watched disbelievingly as his hometown school tumbled. When Crean offered him a chance to be part of the solution, Hulls couldn't pass it up. Crean gave the same sales pitch same everywhere he went: Come to Indiana and you'll get playing time right away, maybe start, become part of something bigger than themselves, earn a degree from a highly-respected institution and forever be known in Hoosiers lore as part of the group that rebuilt Indiana basketball. "I remember the dark days, and now I see the guys being picked high. The program is back," said shooting guard Maurice Creek, who came to Indiana to help restore the basketball program before three season-ending injuries derailed his career. "We have more pieces than when I first got here." The struggles continued through Crean's next two seasons as Indiana went 10-21 and 12-20. Doubters began to wonder how long all this would take. The Hoosiers answered that challenge with a magical 2011-12. Indiana won 15 more games, finishing 27-9 and making their first NCAA tourney under Crean. But it wasn't just the team's record that got national attention. On Dec. 10, Christian Watford hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat No. 1 Kentucky 73-72. Three weeks later, the Hoosiers upset then No. 2 Ohio State 74-70. In February, as No. 5 Michigan State closed in on a Big Ten title, the Hoosiers did it again, soundly beating the Spartans 70-55. It marked the first time in school history that Indiana had beaten three top-five teams in the same season, and the first time in Crean's tenure that the Hoosiers became a ranked team. The only real glitch came in the March rematch with Kentucky, won by the eventual national champs 102-90 - a loss the Hoosiers are now using as motivation. "It probably always lingers because you never want to lose a game," Hulls said. "You hate the feeling of a loss, and we don't want to get back to that point and lose again." Zeller, who averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds last season, has grown about one-half inch to an even 7-feet, has added 10 to 15 pounds of muscle and feels stronger and better than he did a year ago. He is also ready to start shooting 3-pointers. "I worked on it a lot this summer," he said after Hoosier Hysteria. "I shot 3s in high school, but I know I'll have to shoot some from outside this year." Watford (12.6 points), Hulls (11.7) and Oladipo (10.8) also are back. What else does Indiana have? Depth and one of the nation's top freshmen classes. Backup Will Sheehey (8.6) and sophomores Remy Abell and Austin Etherington could all have expanded roles this year. Point guard Yogi Ferrell and fellow freshman Jeremy Hollowell could both see significant playing time, especially with forward Derek Elston expected to miss six to eight weeks with a torn meniscus. But Crean has another advantage other national contenders don't. His team has enough players still around from those losing seasons to remind players to ignore the chatter and just work toward getting their sweetest finish of all - a sixth national championship banner. "I'm not even going to try to downplay that it's not a big deal. It's not a `hey, we told you so.' It's none of that. We lived it. And I think it's a great testament to everybody that's been a part of that program with sticking with it and moving onward and upward," Crean said. "It's an incredible program. It's an incredible school. We need people that are going to come in and leave it in a better place than they found it. That's exactly what our players are trying to do." The Hoosiers aren't likely to get much of a challenge from the Bulldogs, who are entering their first season with Division I postseason eligibility. Coming off a 2-28 campaign, Bryant was picked to finish 10th in the Northeast Conference preseason coaches poll. The Bulldogs are led by junior Alex Francis, who averaged team highs of 17.0 points and 7.4 rebounds last season. Indiana won the only meeting between the teams, 90-42, on Dec. 28, 2009.

Notebook: Point guards Hulls, Ferrell start together in season opener

The expectation became reality on Friday night when point guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls started together in No. 1 Indiana’s season opening win against Bryant. Much has been made throughout the offseason about whether Ferrell and Hulls — both small guards — can play well enough defensively to play on the court together. The two guards passed their first test on Friday...

Short-handed Hoosiers ready for Friday’s opener

No. 1 Indiana enters Friday’s opener against Bryant with a thin frontcourt as a result of an injury to Derek Elston and suspensions to Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin. But those setbacks haven’t put a damper on the team’s excitement to tip off the season. After earning preseason accolades, gracing magazine covers and having countless pieces written by the national media...

Film Session: Defending the 3-pointer

With last Thursday’s game against Indiana Wesleyan not hitting the Big Ten Network until Wednesday, the inaugural Film Session comes a little late this season. Onwards. Indiana Wesleyan got off to a hot start against Indiana last Thursday thanks to an early barrage of open 3-point looks the Wildcats knocked down. A look at what went wrong for the Hoosiers defensively on three...

Hoosiers' Zeller eager for 2nd college season

Indiana's Cody Zeller is back, and he's bigger and better than ever. The preseason All-American has grown one-half inch and added 10 to 15 pounds of muscle. He's worked on his 3-point shot and hopes to include that in this season's repertoire, too, after not attempting a 3 all last season. And he's the biggest reason the Hoosiers are ranked No. 1 as they head...

HD Video: Indiana players react to rout of Bryant

Five Indiana players — Cody Zeller, Yogi Ferrell, Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls and Remy Abell — met with the media following the Hoosiers’ 97-54 dismantling of Bryant on Friday night at Assembly Hall. Watch and listen to the press conferences in the embedded media players below:

No. 1 Indiana looks the part in win

Cody Zeller and Christian Watford gladly welcomed Bryant into the world of big-time college basketball Friday night. It was ugly. The 7-foot center and 6-9 forward combined for 33 points and 25 rebounds, overwhelming an undersized foe and leading No.1 Indiana to a 97-54 season-opening victory. ''One of the things is they had a huge size advantage and they have the best...

No. 1 Indiana 97, Bryant 54

Cody Zeller had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Christian Watford had a career-high 15 boards, leading No. 1 Indiana to a 97-54 rout of Bryant in the season opener. The Hoosiers (1-0) have won 15 consecutive openers and 28 straight home openers. Bryant (0-1) was led by Alex Francis with 15 points and Frankie Dobbs with 12 in its first game as a full-time Division I member - and...

Indiana Hoosiers Cody Zeller becoming a rock star

The Indiana Hoosiers Cody Zeller could end up achieving the same trifecta as Anthony Davis at Kentucky did last year. The Wildcats big man from Chicago won a national title, took home the college basketball player of the year award, and became the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. Zeller may do the same this year. For those who do some online betting, the Hoosiers are the favorite...

The Minute After: Bryant

Thoughts on a 97-54 win against the Bulldogs: I. Indiana’s lack of frontcourt depth was not an issue in this one. Bryant didn’t have much size. And the size the Bulldogs did have was dominated by Cody Zeller. Both Andrew Scocca and Vlad Kondratyev fouled out, as neither had much of a chance once Zeller got the ball on the block and went to work. When Zeller went to the bench...

HD Video: Hoosiers preview season opener with Bryant

Indiana senior Christian Watford, sophomore Cody Zeller, associate head coach Tim Buckley and coach Tom Crean met with the media Thursday to preview Friday’s season opener at Assembly Hall with Bryant. Watch and listen to all three press conferences in the embedded media players below:

Crean signs 2-year contract extension

Indiana athletic director Fred Glass told a soldout crowd Friday night that the school had agreed with coach Tom Crean on a two-year contract extension, keeping him with the Hoosiers through the 2019-20 season. His base salary will increase from approximately $2.52 million per year to $3.16 million. The deal also includes performance bonuses based on Academic Progress Rate scores...

IU-Bryant Quick Recap and Postgame Show

Friday night, the #1-ranked Indiana Hoosiers did exactly what a #1- ranked team should do against an inferior opponent: they imposed their will and cruised to an easy victory. But it took a little longer than some may have expected for the rout to commence. Bryant actually led 15-14 at the under-12 minute timeout in the first half. From there, Indiana went on a 40-15 run into the...

Crean agrees to contract extension through 2020 season

Photo credit: IndianaMBB on Twitter Just moments before the tip-off of tonight’s season opener at Assembly Hall, Indiana Athletics Director Fred Glass announced a contract extension for Tom Crean that will keep him in Bloomington through at least the 2020 season. Here’s the full release from IU media relations. Inside the Hall will have more on this developing story. BLOOMINGTON...

No. 1 Hoosiers roll past Bryant in opener

In the most anticipated season opener in Bloomington in more than 20 years, Indiana did not disappoint. The Hoosiers had six scorers in double figures in a 97-54 rout of Bryant. The Minute After » Crean contract extended » Notebook » Video: Crean reacts » Video: Players react » Photos »

VB: Huskers bounce back against Indiana

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