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COLUMN

Tough-minded Oladipo paces tough-minded IU

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Tipoff: Indiana at Penn State, 7 p.m. Jan. 7
RADIO: 1250-AM
TV: BTN

Online: For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

All things are possible after first road victory

Tuesday, January 1, 2013 - 6:15 am

Indiana's Victor Oladipo is a special guy, but you already know that.

You certainly saw the double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) the junior guard had in Monday's 69-65 win at Iowa. You've seen his season-long bid to show that he might be the nation's best defensive player (he helped hold the Hawkeyes' leading scorer, Roy Devin Marble, to 1-for-14 shooting). He's been, without question, the No. 5 Hoosiers' best player, and that's saying something given teammate Cody Zeller's projections as a possible No. 1 NBA draft pick.

But did you know Oladipo is good at delivering turkeys?

Coach Tom Crean said Oladipo spent his first few hours on his return to the Washington D.C. area for Christmas break going to the local Boys and Girls Club with his AAU coaches and former teammates passing out turkeys.

“There are very few people like him,” Crean said. “That's just uncommon. Nobody made him do that. That's just who he is.”

Oladipo is known as a 6-4 high-energy guy who has gone from a relative unknown when he arrived at IU two years ago to a possible NBA first-round draft pick. His big offensive rebound basket, off a Zeller air ball, gave the Hoosiers a 65-60 lead with 1:04 left. He hit two free throws with 26 seconds left to help Indiana hang on to win its Big Ten opener and get its first victory at Iowa's Carver Hawkeye Arena in five years.

This isn't an accident. Oladipo is part of what Crean calls the 365-Day Club, which means he is working on his game every day of the year, and often multiple times each day.

“Is it a surprise he is playing that well?” Crean said. “Not at all because we see the work ethic every day. We see the attitude. The key is that he keeps the humbleness and the desire he's got defensively because everything is coming from that.”

Oladipo's defense fueled a Hoosier approach that held Iowa to 14 points below its season average. But he was far from a one-man show. Zeller had a double double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Will Sheehey came off the bench for 13 points and five rebounds. Yogi Ferrell, in his first career college road game, totaled nine points, seven rebounds and four assists.

And then there was senior guard Jordan Hulls, one of the nation's best shooters who couldn't hit anything. He was 0-for-10 from the field for zero points, but he made up for that with six assists and no turnovers.

Because of all of this, IU has won three of its last four Big Ten road games and showed, as if there was any doubt, that it is a strong contender for conference and national titles.

The Hoosiers' Big Ten schedule is made for a month-long unbeaten run, at least as much as a team can hope for in a conference rated No. 1 in America.

They seem unbeatable in Assembly Hall (10-0 there this season with wins in 28 of their last 29 home games), although it won't be easy given they'll face surprising Minnesota (13-1), rugged Michigan State (11-3) and unbeaten Michigan (13-0) there in the next five weeks. No matter. They'll win those three, plus beat Wisconsin (9-4) and Penn State (9-4) there in the next month.

As for the road games, IU plays at three of what figures to be Big Ten middle-of-the-pack-or-worse teams with Penn State, Northwestern (9-4) and Purdue (6-6). The Hoosiers should sweep those games, which would make them 9-0 in conference play entering a brutal two-game road swing at No. 11 Illinois (13-1) and No. 8 Ohio State (10-2). That's part of a rugged February that also includes trips to Michigan State and Minnesota.

Yes, we're getting WAY ahead of ourselves, but now that IU finally has a road game under its belt, now that it's proven it can win in an extremely hostile environment, all things are possible.

But then, you already know that, too.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.