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COLUMN

Indiana takes aim at No. 1 NCAA seed

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For more on college athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Hoosiers seek the postseason edge

Sunday, March 17, 2013 - 9:46 pm

CHICAGO, Ill. -- The Hoosiers have no idea. If we learned anything about Indiana's NCAA tourney seed prospects, that much is as clear as the fact it can't beat Wisconsin.

“I don't know,” junior swingman Will Sheehey said. “Sorry.”

The Hoosiers are 27-6 and steamed they aren't 28-5. They can't change Saturday's 68-56 Big Ten tourney semifinal loss to nemesis Wisconsin (that's 12 straight to the Badgers if you're counting, and we know you are). They can change what happens from here.

Some of that is up to the NCAA selection committee, which will determine IU's seed, region, first-round opponent and potential path to a Final Four trip to Atlanta.

That will be announced tonight.

The rest is up to an IU team that has spent the season talking national title goals. Now comes its one-and-done chance, and given the quality of the Big Ten, it is as well prepared as a team could be.

It starts with its seed.

Indiana is looking at a No. 1 seed along with Gonzaga, Duke, Louisville and, perhaps, Kansas.

But will it get the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional and a berth in Indianapolis for the Sweet 16 if it gets that far? Or will it be put No. 1 in the East Regional, which means, barring an upset, a Sweet 16 berth in Washington DC?

That will come down to whether Indiana is considered the best of the No. 1 seeds, which means it will get the closest regional site.

Only the selection committee knows for sure.

Ah, the complications of March Madness.

So here's what we do know. IU is 6-2 against top-25 teams this season. It went 5-0 against top-10 teams. It has seven victories against teams in the top 25 in terms of RPI. It spent 10 weeks as the nation's No. 1 team, and the entire season in the top 10. All six of its losses came against likely NCAA tourney teams.

So again, what do the Hoosiers know?

“We don't pay attention to that,” forward Derek Elston said. “We know Indiana has been a name for the No. 1 seed. If we get it great, if we don't, that's fine. We'll play wherever we get put.”

Added point guard Yogi Ferrell: “We'll see. Our goals are still out there. Coaches will prepare us well coming in to the tournament.”

In an ideal world, a team enters the NCAA tourney playing its best ball. IU is 3-3 in its last six games, although given the caliber of the teams it lost to (Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin), that might not be the negative it normally would.

Still, is that a problem?

“I'm not concerned,” senior guard Jordan Hulls said. “It's frustrating when you lose like that. You don't want to lose, but we played good basketball within those games. We have to dig down and find that edge that we need.”

Finding that edge starts with film study on what IU did wrong against Wisconsin.

“We'll correct it and get ready for the big tournament,” guard Victor Oladipo said, “because we want to be successful in that, as well.”

As you might expect, coach Tom Crean had a similar view.

“We need to improve. There are certain things we can get better at. We need to make the corrections and move forward.”

The advantage of not making today's Big Ten title game is it gives you an extra day of rest -- although if you know anything about these Hoosiers, you know they never rest -- and one less chance to get beat up, although Crean wasn't prepared to say that.

“My mindset is you try to win every game and take the next one as it comes. Certainly we would have liked to have won it.

“But it doesn't undo what we have done to this point. We have had an excellent season. There's room for growth, there's no doubt about that. We would have liked to have played better.”

The good news for Indiana is that there aren't many Wisconsin-like teams out there. In this speed-thrills era where we want our basketball, just like our food, fast and hot, patience is a dirty word.

And even for a possible slow-it-down NCAA tourney opponent, it won't know IU's tendencies nearly as well as the Badgers do no matter how much film it watches.

The Badgers under coach Bo Ryan take patience to another level, and have for all 12 of his years at Wisconsin. He played that consistency -- both against IU and in general -- as a coach being “so obstinate he's only going to accept certain things.”

“You have to have players that are willing to listen, to work, to buy in. There are guys who know a lot more in this profession than I do that have their teams look like they've never played together before.

“We've had those moments where we look like that. You have to play the percentages, keep driving, keep working it and surround yourself with good people. It makes it easier. It's never easy, just makes it easier.”

Easy isn't part of NCAA tourney lore. Drama is. Hard work is. Rising to the challenge is. The Hoosiers, gearing for a long NCAA tourney run, understand that.

“I doubt we'll have a day of rest,” Sheehey said. “We'll be back practicing (Sunday) and move on. The more reps we get, the more practice time we get, we'll be ready for our next time.”

That much, you see, we do know.

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.