BLOOMINGTON -- Cody Zeller was joking. Well, we think he was. He was smiling, at least.
Zeller is Indiana's 7-foot forward enjoying the reward of the No. 1 East Region seed. He and the rest of the Hoosiers found out about it Sunday night in a private gathering at Cook Hall that consisted of team members and family. That was vastly different from last year, when the Hoosiers' return to NCAA tourney glory prompted a NCAA tourney selection night media event.
The change, Zeller said, was wonderful.
“It was great because none of you guys were there,” he said.
That's a joke, right, he was asked.
“No, seriously,” he said with a smile.
For the record, Zeller is famous for pranks and jokes as subtle as the rap song about him at a website near you.
But we digress.
The Hoosiers' No. 1 seed did not come in the Midwest, which means instead of a potential Sweet 16 berth in Indianapolis, they'll go through Washington D.C.
First, of course, they have to get through Dayton, which means beating either LIU Brooklyn (20-13) or James Madison (20-14) on Friday, and either North Carolina State (24-10) or Temple (23-9) on Sunday.
Is not playing in Indianapolis a problem?
Not for IU, which is a No. 1 seed for just the third time since seeding was begun in 1979. The other times were 1993 and 1987.
“We put in a lot of work and felt we deserved a No. 1 seed,” forward Christian Watford said. “We were happy to get the No. 1 seed. Anytime you do that, it's a great accomplishment.
“Not getting Indianapolis was tough, but it's the road we got. We didn't expect it to be easy. Nothing has been given to us. Nothing has come easy. We'll embrace it and take the road mentality.”
Why did Louisville (29-5) get the overall No. 1 seed rating given it was 0-2 against top 10 teams to Indiana's 5-0 mark? NCAA selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski said it came down to the overall body of work. The Cardinals had a RPI of No. 3 to IU's 8. They won their final 10 games and 14 of their last 16. They won the Big East tourney title.
Indiana (27-6) won the Big Ten championship, impressive since the Big Ten was, by far, the nation's best conference, but it was 3-3 in its final six games.
In the end, the Hoosiers were considered the third-best No. 1 seed. They were also behind Kansas (a 5 RPI) and ahead of Gonzaga, even though the Zags had a RPI of 7.
“We did give a lot of time and energy to that first line, as much as I can recall in my five years on the committee, Bobinski said. “There were six teams that we strongly, strongly analyzed for those four slots. It was a very close call.”
The Hoosiers said that was the last thing on their minds. They swayed from the disappointment over Saturday's Big Ten tourney loss to Wisconsin to the excitement over NCAA tourney opportunity.
“We're ready to play,” Watford said. “We want to get back on the court and get that taste out of our mouths. We'll be ready to go."
Added Zeller: “We're not worried about not being in Indianapolis. There are Indiana fans everywhere, so anywhere would have been good. It should be fun for us.”
Fun means winning and Indiana is well along in its preparation. The Hoosiers have plenty of film on the four films in could play in Dayton. They film virtually every game played, and have access to the ones they don't.
They want redemption from the Wisconsin defeat. They want this last chance to show, once and for all, in a season rich in parity, that they are the nation's best.
“We're ready to play,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “It's unfortunate we lost (against Wisconsin). We're not happy about that. We want to correct it. What better way to do that than in the NCAA Tournament.”
That, we can guarantee you, is no joke.