Tipoff: Indiana vs. James Madison, NCAA tourney, 4:10 p.m. Friday
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BLOOMINGTON -- You know Cody Zeller can play basketball. But can Indiana's sophomore forward predict it?
It depends on how much you believe him.
Zeller insists that, back in the day, he was a killer in NCAA tourney pool circles. Well, make that family pool circles.
“I remember, ever since I was little, filling out two to three brackets,” he says. “I dominated my family. I remember that. We were always very competitive. It goes back to how competitive my family is.”
For the record, the Zellers know basketball. Cody's oldest brother, Luke, was the 2005 Indiana Mr. Basketball who played at Notre Dame. Another brother, Tyler, was the 2008 Indiana Mr. Basketball, was an All-America at North Carolina and now plays for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. An uncle, Al Eberhard, played four year in the NBA for the Detroit Pistons.
Cody has recently earned All-America and All-Big Ten honors.
IU teammate Christian Watford also says he's thrived in NCAA tourney pools.
“A couple of years ago, I got three of the four Final Four teams,” he says. “But I picked crazy upsets. I picked George Mason when they went on their run. It was probably just luck, though.”
That was in 2006, when George Mason upset Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut en route to the Final Four, where it lost to eventual champ Florida.
Also for the record, neither Watford nor Zeller participate in any kind of NCAA tourney pool that involves money.
Zeller's lifelong interest in the NCAA tourney has added significance now that he's played in it. Last year, he helped the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16. This year IU, the top seed in the East Region, will open NCAA tourney play against James Madison (21-14) Friday in Dayton, Ohio.
“It's neat to be on the other side of it and participate in it,” he says. “You think of all the games, all the upsets, the history. You feel part of that history. To see so many (TV) clips from the past, the great game winners. It's neat to be part of that.”
IU (27-6) hasn't played since Saturday's Big Ten tourney semifinal loss to Wisconsin. James Madison beat LIU Brooklyn 68-55 Wednesday night to advance to Friday's game.
The Hoosiers, Zeller says, are ready to get things started.
“We're very excited. It truly is one and done now. If you don't win, you're going home. Playing in the NCAA Tournament is something we'll remember for the rest of our lives.”
Don't sweat Indiana's 3-3 run to the NCAA Tournament.
The top-seeded Hoosiers aren't.
The national title goal remains very much in play, junior guard Victor Oladipo says. The loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tourney, which followed losses to Minnesota and Ohio State in recent weeks, provided lessons the players have learned.
“We just have to get back to what we know wins basketball games,” Oladipo says. “If we do that and we stay focused and keep that edge, we'll be fine. Playing defense at a high level and playing Indiana basketball. If we do those things, I think we'll be fine.”
IU (27-6) got an extra day of rest because of its conference tourney semifinal defeat to Wisconsin. It will face a James Madison team that held LIU Brooklyn, the nation's No. 5 scoring team at more than 79 points a game, to a season-low 55 points on Wednesday.
“I'm not concerned,” guard Jordan Hulls says. “It's frustrating because you don't want to lose, but we played good basketball within those games that we lost. We have to dig down and find that edge we need.”
IU hasn't lost consecutive games all season and Hulls doesn't expect that to change now.
“We've come back from every loss and gotten better. We look to do that again.”
Once upon a time, coaches had to scramble to find film of their first NCAA tourney opponent, especially if the team came from a small conference.
Tape of almost every team is available as fast as a video coordinator can type.
Coach Tom Crean said his staff was editing film of LIU Brooklyn and James Madison soon after the drawing was announced Sunday night.
“We tape literally every game that's on," Crean said. "When you don't have, you can go to (scouting service Synergy Sports) and grab. And people will call around. (Assistant coach) Kenny Johnson (who coached at Towson) is from that league that James Madison is in (Colonial Athletic Association). He's been a part of that, so he has an idea of what's going on there. We'll dive in that way.”
By Monday night, IU coaches were also looking at possible Sunday opponents North Carolina State and Temple.
Oladipo gained acclaim by appearing on one of four Sports Illustrated regional covers this week. Teammate Will Sheehey got a different type of exposure when Cosmopolitan magazine put him on its web list of Hottest Guys of March Madness 2013 – Who Will Make Your Final Four?
Sheehey is there with a photo and a cutline that says, “As a forward, Will is great with rebounds. Nothing beats a guy who knows how to bounce back.”
Twenty-fve other players are listed. Duke's Seth Curry is there. So are Michigan's Trey Burke, Louisville's Russ Smith and more.
For the record, no sports writers are listed.