By MICHAEL MAROT, Associated Press
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — The Indiana Hoosiers have seen some of the preseason rankings and have heard people talking all over campus.
Clearly, they're aware of the debate about whether they'll be playing for a national championship in the spring.
Inside the locker room, the Hoosiers have chosen to stay away from the discussion and focus on the things that matter most — getting stronger, getting quicker and exceeding their own goals rather than those being set by the outsiders.
"You know, we were here when nobody was talking about us, so it's a humbling experience when everyone is talking about you," junior swingman Victor Oladipo said Thursday. "Look we love accolades, we love recognition, but we know none of that matters right now."
By April, it might.
The pundits are raving about Indiana's freshmen class, pitching center Cody Zeller as a player of the year candidate and talking about the Hoosiers in the same breath as perennial college basketball blue-bloods like Duke, Kansas and North Carolina.
There hasn't been this much preseason excitement in Bloomington since 2002-03, the year after Indiana finished as the national runner-up, and Hoosiers fans say it's about time.
Last season, Indiana made one of the most dramatic turnarounds in college basketball. After three straight losing seasons, the Hoosiers upset three top-five teams, including No. 1 Kentucky on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, and reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time since Tom Crean took over as coach.
So when Crean got most of his key players back and one of the nation's top recruiting classes, the natural assumption was that the Hoosiers could win it all.
"I don't know that we've really set any goals as a team, but obviously, we want to win a national championship," Zeller said. "We're not going to guarantee anything, we're just going to play and see where it takes us."
Crean is eager to see what he has.
Although a new NCAA rule allowed him to lead small groups of players through short practices this summer, Crean has not really had a chance to see his team together in months.
Indiana will hold its first official workout, a closed practice that will be televised by ESPN, next Friday. Indiana doesn't plan to hold its traditional Hoosier Hysteria festivities until Oct. 20.
"I don't think we spend much time talking about that," Crean said, referring to this year's soaring expectations. "They understand we're trying to raise the standard of play here. We've got to continue to grow to a point where we're really consistent and we've got to have a toughness about us. It's not about being arrogant or cocky or being tough when you're ahead by 10 points, but being tough when you're down five or six on the road. We're spending our time getting the best skills out of them that we can."
There's no telling how good the Hoosiers might be
If freshman Yogi Ferrell emerges as the starting point guard, as many anticipate, senior Jordan Hulls and Oladipo, a junior, may spend more time playing their natural shooting roles.
If Maurice Creek is healthy enough to become a contributor, as Hoosiers fans hope, that will be an added bonus.
Even Zeller looks different. He says he's grown about a half-inch since last year, measuring an even 7-feet in his shoes, and has bulked up to 240 pounds. He played most of last year between 225 and 230 pounds.
And while the combination has certainly created a stir outside Assembly Hall, Crean spent the summer going back to the basics..
"I've never incorporated more drill aspects than I did this year because I think it's really, really important," he said.
Will the combination allow the Hoosiers to meet the hype?
The players hope so.
"We're not throwing anything out," said Hulls, who was wearing a T-shirt celebrating Indiana's tourney run. "We'd like to win every single game we play, of course."