In the Wake of the News
March 16, 2013
No image from Indiana's 80-64 win over Illinois on Friday at the United Center projected a college basketball program that has come full circle better than Victor Oladipo's 360-degree dunk.
It was loud enough to resonate in a professional sports city peeking at the Big Ten tournament between Bears free-agency updates, the Blackhawks and the Derrick Rose watch. It was as memorable as anything the annual Air & Water Show could offer Chicago.
With 1 minute, 37 seconds left in a game that saw Illinois come unwound, Oladipo found himself alone on a breakaway. The 6-foot-5 guard later admitted he didn't know what he planned to do before going airborne, but he knew it would be good. Based on reaction to his spinning slam in front of the IU bench, 21,793 fans in the sold-out arena agreed.
"Ola-dipo! Ola-dipo!'' the crowd chanted.
Oh, my goodness, everyone else thought. The public seldom sees dunks like this without a prop or Charles Barkley commentary.
"It was a last-second thought,'' Oladipo said. "No, that's not my best one.''
Oladipo's unimpressed teammates implied as much. Christian Watford rated it a 6. Jordan Hulls went as high as 9.
"It's because they watch me in practice and see some crazier stuff I'm capable of,'' Oladipo said. "A windmill here, a between-the-legs there. ... But I decided to go the safe route because if I would have done something crazy and missed, Coach (Tom) Crean would have been livid.''
He means more livid. Crean irritably stalks the sideline like a chef spit in his lunch. Pacing back and forth, raising his voice and his players' blood pressure, he coaches with an intensity that makes brother-in-law Jim Harbaugh seem almost sedate in comparison. Crean's demeanor makes postgame handshake lines with opposing coaches must-see events.
Whatever Crean does works. Two years after Indiana finished 12-20 — the Hoosiers' third straight 20-loss season — Crean has the Hoosiers on the verge of becoming the Midwest's No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The restoration of Indiana basketball has been so quick and complete that Groupon probably wants to tap Crean's brain while he is in town.
Indiana players don't wear names on the backs of their jerseys, but tradition fills every fiber of their team because of the way Crean tirelessly preaches togetherness. Call it old-fashioned and be ready for a Hoosier to say, "Thank you, sir.''
"Everybody is humble,'' said IU center Cody Zeller, unguardable with a game-high 24 points. "Nobody is jealous at all.''
In relatively short time, Indiana has become what Illinois coach John Groce wants his Illini to be: attacking, unselfish and Final Four-worthy. Five Hoosiers scored in double figures for a team as balanced as a good judge.
They share the basketball and the load defensively, as they did in stopping Brandon Paul. One day after creating the best memory of the season with a buzzer-beater against Minnesota, Paul disappeared against Big Ten defensive player of the year Oladipo. He shot 2-for-13 and finished with 16 points.
"They get into you,'' Paul said. "They play hard. They're scrappy.''
To get the Hoosiers into the proper frame of mind defensively, Crean showed players the videotape of their Feb. 7 loss to Illinois during a meeting Thursday night at the team hotel. Learning from its mistakes, Indiana ran 7-footer Zeller at Paul off ball screens and switched defenders when he tried getting open away from the ball. Paul went the final 22:02 without a field goal.
Illinois cut the lead to eight with 8:17 left in the second half when Paul began using more ball screens and attacking the basket to get to the free-throw line, where he hit 11 of 12. But Indiana routinely ran off five straight points, and the only drama left came from Oladipo's did-you-see-that highlight.
Earlier when Zeller stole the ball from Paul in the open court and ambled to the other end for a first-half layup, Paul looked like he sensed a long day. Showing emotion unbecoming a senior leader, too often Paul's expressions were as easy to read as he was to guard.
Paul rolled his eyes once when Joseph Bertand didn't pass him the ball. Another time, he shook his head at a teammate's shot selection. After his final air ball of the day, he glared at a referee he felt missed the call.
While Crean brings out the best in Indiana, his Hoosiers have developed a knack of bringing out the worst in opponents. Frustration reigned as Paul and fellow senior D.J. Richardson missed 19 of 23 shots.
"That's the story of the game,'' Crean said.
Perhaps, but I could make a slam-dunk case that won't be what people remember most.
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