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Associated Press
Cody Zeller helped lead Indiana back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

IU is ready to dance

– Cody Zeller was a high school freshman the last time Indiana appeared in the NCAA tournament.

That was 2008.

Indiana's drought ends today with a second-round game against New Mexico State. IU (25-8), the No. 4 seed in the South Region, plays the No. 13 Aggies (26-9) at the Rose Garden.

IU is hoping for a longer stay than the last trip to the tournament when Arkansas knocked out the Hoosiers in the opening round in Raleigh, N.C.

Dan Dakich was the interim coach then, having taken over after Kelvin Sampson's resignation.

A lot has changed since then. Tom Crean came aboard that April and after three rough seasons has the Hoosiers back in familiar territory.

"Everyone is very excited to play," Zeller said Wednesday. "We've all been soaking in everything we can about the whole process of the NCAA tournament."

Zeller has emerged as a central figure to the revival. The freshman leads the team in scoring (15.5 points per game) and rebounding (6.4).

Today marks an introduction to the tournament for Zeller. And all of his Indiana teammates.

New Mexico State is in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.

"(Being here before) helps us with preparation in what to expect and with the whole overall process," New Mexico State forward Wendell McKines said.

"After being here, you more just look forward to the game, which I am."

The Aggies have size. New Mexico State has three players listed at 6-foot-10 or taller.

But their biggest weapon is the 6-6, 230-pound McKines, who averages 18.8 points and 10.8 rebounds.

"He's a tough kid. He's very passionate about the game of basketball," New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said. "Attributes like that and virtues like that in the game of basketball will rub off on the younger guys."

McKines has 20 double-doubles this season and averaged 21.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the Western Athletic Conference tournament. He was named the event's most valuable player.

"Their baskets off of offensive rebounds and their free-throw attempts off of offensive rebounds have got to be as high as anybody we've seen," Crean said. "Verticality and making sure our positioning is right, all those things are crucial."

Christian Watford has taken on a larger role rebounding for the Hoosiers. Watford has recorded double-doubles in three of Indiana's last four games.

It's been a season of firsts for the Hoosiers. The players have done all they can to prepare for their first tournament game.

"It's something none of us have experienced before," Indiana sophomore forward Will Sheehey said. "We're all excited and a little bit giddy just to get everything rolling."

lpope@jg.net

What's happening

Look for LaMond Pope's blog postings and and video reports at Eyeing IU and Twitter updates @JGlamondpope.

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