Online: For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.
BLOOMINGTON --There was fire and light, music and cheers, passion and even tears. Fans came and, 90 minutes before the start, were turned away. Some spent the night. Others arrived in time to get autographs, and more.
Welcome to a Hoosier Hysteria unlike any other, with nearly 18,000 (above the 17,200 regular capacity) packing Assembly Hall.
It was the consequence of a preseason No. 1 ranking and, with all five returning starters and a heralded freshman class arriving, expectations of the program's first national title since 1987.
“(Friday) morning exceeded (expectations) when there were people lined up,” coach Tom Crean said. “There was no downside to anything after yesterday morning.”
With a little prodding from ESPN's Sage Steele on Saturday night, Crean addressed that No. 1 ranking.
“It does not happen without the greatest fan base in the history of college basketball,” coach Tom Crean said.
As far as the ranking bringing pressure, Crean had one thing to say -- bring it on.
“When you come to Indiana there's a target on your back from the beginning,” he said. He pointed to the championship banners hanging from the corners. “So many former players are back. They had targets on their backs.”
He referred to the three straight 20-loss seasons before last year's 27-9 Sweet 16 turnaround.
“Just because we were down doesn't mean people weren't trying to get to us,” Crean said. “There were people who didn't want us coming back. Well, let me tell you something. It is back!”
When Steele was talking with Crean, she mentioned those losing seasons. Crean took the microphone from her.
“Who wrote that?” he asked. “Did a Purdue grad give you that?”
Steele, an IU grad, emceed while wearing candy striped pants. She called All-America sophomore Cody Zeller a once-a-generation player.” She praised Crean's turn-around job and addressed new women's basketball coach Curt Miller, saying he's “a man who has come here to lead the Hoosier women back to where they belong.”
Junior guard Victor Oladipo came out singing and dancing with teammates. They all wore sunglasses.
No, it wasn't because the Assembly Hall spotlight hurt their eyes.
A video displayed on the large scoreboard above the court showed great Hoosier players, coaches (including Bob Knight throwing a chair) and moments.
Yes, last year's dramatic win over Kentucky was included.
It all had a strong recruiting component to it, and why not? More than 20 elite basketball recruits attended. They included Bishop Luers brothers James and Vijay Blackmon, plus elite big man BeeJay Anya, shooting guard Stanford Robinson, Indianapolis Cathedral's Collin Hartman, Indianapolis Warren Central's Devin Davis and Indianapolis North Central's Eron Gordon, the younger brother of former IU All-America and current NBA player Eric Gordon.
James Blackmon, Robinson, Hartman and Davis have all committed to IU.
Also a pair of four-star football defensive lineman recruits from Indianapolis, Pike's David Kenney and North Central's Darius Latham, attended.
Long lines stretched way past Assembly Hall hours before the doors opened at 4. Some students had camped outside the arena the night before -- enduring rain and cold -- to ensure they'd get a good seat in the first-come-first-served situation.
For the first time ever, security officials began turning people away a couple of hours before the 7 p.m. start. Some fans were fine with that. Others, not so much.
New women's basketball coach Curt Miller appeared with his team -- including former Concordia standout Andrea Newbauer -- and staff. After a successful run at Bowling Green that included multiple Mid-American Conference titles and postseason appearances, Miller vowed to turn the struggling program into a winner.
“This is my dream job,” he said, “but we have some rebuilding to do.
“It's a marathon and not a sprint. I love out players' work ethic and reception to a new era. We're playing a completely different style -- man to man defense and up-tempo offense. They're buying into it.”
Miller acknowledged IU strength coach Tom Morris, who severely injured his spine in an off-road bicycle accident last summer. He appeared in a wheelchair with a strong drive to regain his ability to walk and return to his job, which included working with the women's team. Morris got a standing ovation.
“It won't be long until Tom is back with us full time,” Miller said. “You all know about his unfortunate accident. There's not a man who works harder. He gives us inspiration with his battle. We can't wait until he's back with us full time.”