How Indiana is handling its No. 1 ranking

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
11:41
AM ET
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Tom Crean and top assistant Steve McClain have always worn out their soles on the court.

And so it was here in Brooklyn during Indiana's shootaround on Monday.

The two most recognizable names on the IU coaching staff: coaching, motioning, gesturing, talking and constantly on point. The shootaround -- just an hour long -- was as intense as any practice you'll witness.

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Tom Crean
Debby Wong/US PresswireTom Crean and the Hoosiers will face off with Georgetown in the Legends title game.

That's probably why the Hoosiers have moved from a stumbling rebuilding project to the No. 1 team in the country. And why they have the look of a team that isn't going to drop from the national radar -- even if Indiana were to lose to Georgetown on Tuesday in the championship game of the Legends Classic (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).

"I don't think they've lost that mentality,'' Crean said of the Hoosiers' approach to being the hunted -- the team with the target -- instead of the hunter. "They're practicing like a hungry team. That's what it's been like.''

Indiana dealt with adversity Monday night. The Hoosiers let a young, scrappy but erratic Georgia team get a lead at halftime. Indiana big man Cody Zeller played limited minutes due to foul problems.

This wasn't a stellar Zeller night. He didn't look like the preseason player of the year, recording only six points and four rebounds, with four turnovers. And the Hoosiers didn't have the dominant look of a champion. Instead, they found a way to win by leaning on others. Jordan Hulls made key second-half 3s. Victor Oladipo got to the hoop and converted. Christian Watford continued to be in the right place at the right time. Yogi Ferrell had a consistent game with five assists and one turnover.

The Hoosiers aren't a dominant team. But they have the pieces to be in play for the title come March. When they get freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin eligible, they'll have the length and size to offset a foul-plagued game from Zeller.

"They have a wingspan of plus-nine, they run the floor and they are great kids,'' Crean said. "They've done a phenomenal job in school. They have handled all of this without any adjustment problems.''

The turnaround of the Hoosiers is remarkable, but not completely surprising. There are only a handful of programs that you can arguably say shouldn't ever dip to irrelevancy: Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and UCLA.

Crean has worked tirelessly to get IU back to the top. He landed the necessary recruits, led by Zeller, to push this program over the top. Having Zeller return for his sophomore season and getting Ferrell to stay close to home was and is the difference in Indiana's being a title contender.

But the Hoosiers aren't complacent. They haven't let the attention get to them. They haven't been full of themselves. They know they haven't accomplished anything yet after last season's pedestrian Big Ten finish and a Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky.

There is plenty of work to do, a slew of games to win, and adversity to handle.

So far the Hoosiers are taking and making the right steps.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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