Oladipo: We feel like we can win it

For the first time in the Tom Crean era, Indiana can talk about the first round of the Big Ten Tournament as just “the next game.”

It’s not a beginning a “new season” and it’s not an opportunity to wipe the slate clean after a disappointing year.

Because whatever happens in the No. 5 seed Hoosiers game against No. 12 Penn State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at approximately 1:55 p.m. today, and whatever happens in any subsequent games after that, Indiana will still have a season come Sunday. The Hoosiers, ranked No. 15 in both polls, head into the conference tournament with a 24-7 overall record, an 11-7 Big Ten mark and are a certified lock to not only earn an NCAA Tournament bid but likely a top five seed in that bracket.

“It’s definitely a lot better feeling, I can tell you that,” junior point guard Jordan Hulls said. “… This year’s a whole lot different than the past years, but we’ve just gotta take it the same way we have all year. Just next game.”

Said sophomore guard Victor Oladipo: “It’s a good feeling, but at the same time, I feel as though we want a lot out of this tournament here, the Big Ten Tournament. We’re going to go in to it with a real good mindset and trying to win it, man, because we feel like we can.”

The Hoosiers have never won a Big Ten Tournament in its previous 14 wins of existence, but it certainly doesn’t seem out of the question this year.

If this season has proven nothing else, it’s that the Hoosiers are capable of beating anyone on a given night. They became the first IU team in school history to knock off three Associated Press Top 5 teams in the regular season, and they have victories over Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, the top three seeds in this tournament.

The only Big Ten team seeded ahead of them that the Hoosiers haven’t beaten is No. 4 seed Wisconsin — which Indiana would play at approximately 2:25 p.m. on Friday with a win over Penn State today — but the Hoosiers lost a nip-and-tuck 57-50 game in Madison, so it’s obvious they can hang with the Badgers as well. And Indiana is one of the hottest teams heading into the tournament, winners of four straight and seven of their last eight.

Plus, Indiana has the closest thing to home court advantage in the tournament with the games just one hour away from Bloomington. Their 18-1 mark at Assembly Hall proves how much the Hoosiers get from having the crowd behind them.

“I hope that we just dominate tomorrow with attendance and that it’s just an incredible venue for Indiana fans,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said.

Support would certainly pick up the deeper the Hoosiers go into the weekend, but they obviously have to get past Penn State first, which would mean winning their first Big Ten Tournament game since 2006. The Nittany Lions (12-19 overall, 4-14 in the Big Ten) have struggled as expected in coach Pat Chambers’ first year, not for his faults but because of the losses of star guard Talor Battle and others from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.

However, the Lions have proven to be one of the Big Ten’s grittiest teams, and that’s made them occasionally dangerous. They lost twice to Indiana and they didn’t win a conference road game, but they did knock off Purdue, Illinois and Iowa.

“They’re one of the harder-playing teams around,” Crean said. “… Every time they’re dealt a blow, they just keep coming. They’re a resilient, resourceful, tough bunch of guys, led by their coach.”

And led by All-Big Ten first team point guard Tim Frazier. No other player in the Big Ten accounts for more of his team’s offense than Frazier, who is used on 32.4 percent of Penn State’s possessions according to KenPom.com. The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring with 18.6 points per game and first in assists with 6.3 per game.

“You’ve gotta be completely aware of him from start to finish and from one end to the other.” Crean said. “His game is so much about being in that lane and creating penetration. Now, with that being said, he’s shooting more 3’s on average than he has. He’s getting to the foul line. He’s been one of the most complete guards, not only in our league, but I think in the country for a long period of time. If you allow him to dominate in transition and dominate the paint not only for shots but for passes, he’s really, really good.”

Frazier scored 21 points against Indiana in each of the teams’ first two meetings — which Indiana won 88-82 on Jan. 8 and 73-54 on Jan. 22 — but the Hoosiers appear to be at least somewhat better prepared for him the second time around. Junior forward Christian Watford (6-foot-9, 225-pounds) has been increasingly effective as a defender of point guards. That effectively gives the Hoosiers at least five differing options — Watford, Oladipo, senior guard Verdell Jones, sophomore swingman Will Sheehey and perhaps freshman Remy Abell — to mark Frazier in man-to-man, not to mention the possibility of sprinkling in 2-3 zone.

“Playing as much minutes as he does, fatigue sets in at some point,” Oladipo said. “Throwing different guys at him, he can be expecting one thing, but something else might happen. Expecting the speed and quickness, and then the next play come down, he sees the length, so he can’t go past him like he did before. Just giving him different looks and trying to slow him down doing that.”

The Hoosiers will live to see another day regardless, but that could help them see another day in Indy.

AUDIO: Tom Crean

AUDIO: Jordan Hulls

AUDIO: Cody Zeller

AUDIO: Christian Watford

AUDIO: Victor Oladipo


One comment

  1. Hey Dipo! Do you realize if IU wins the B1G tourney they will enter the NCAA tourney with the most wins of any B1G team!

    Imagine that… 28-7 smells like a high #3 or low #2 seed…

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