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Ben Smith

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Indiana
vs. LIU-Brooklyn or James Madison
What: NCAA tournament, second round
Where: Dayton, Ohio
When: Friday
TV: Approximately 4:10 p.m.
Radio: 1250 AM, 92.7 FM
Associated Press
Indiana head coach Tom Crean said his team was “excited” after earning just the school’s third No. 1 tournament seed Sunday.

IU going through motions as top seed

So now you crack open the archives, trying to divine a few things. A No. 1 seed? What does that mean, exactly, for your Indiana Hoosiers?

“There are only four of them, and we’re one of them,” head coach Tom Crean says, wearing his Mr. Obvious hat at a rakish angle.

“Any time you’re a No. 1 seed, you’re excited,” Christian Watford says, and his Mr. Obvious hat looks sharp, too.

Now here comes Crean again, pointing out that this is only the third time Indiana has been a No. 1 seed.

“An amazing, amazing accomplishment,” he says.

And that’s where you really begin this, as you try to decipher the hieroglyphics of that peculiar artifact known as The Bracket.

You begin by saying that Indiana has come far, and there is farther yet to go. That third No. 1 seed, after all, illuminates a history of mixed portent. The first time the Hoosiers were a No. 1 seed, in 1987, they won the whole deal on Keith Smart’s Bourbon Street jumper. The second time, in 1993, they didn’t even make the Final Four, losing to second-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight.

And now, in 2013?

A 3-3 finish knocked the Hoosiers out of the Midwest region and into the East, a demotion that actually feels more like the hoops gods smiling down on them. The Midwest, after all, is Gettysburg in baggy shorts: Louisville and Duke and Michigan State and everyone’s favorite bracket-detonating monster, St. Louis. The East, on the other hand, is Indiana and Miami and All Them Others.

There are landmines in there, but most are well-marked. So proceed with caution, and do it a step at a time.

“Now we go back to work,” is how Crean put it Sunday night. “It is a whole new season, it truly is. Our whole goal this week is to be as good as we can be going to Dayton, win in Dayton and take it from there.”

That means taking care of either LIU-Brooklyn or James Madison on Friday, and either North Carolina State or Temple on Sunday. All of those are beatable teams for an Indiana team that went through the Big Ten with just four losses; all of them are also dangerous for an Indiana team that was startlingly erratic across its last six games, and even within those games.

What the Hoosiers have going for them here is, if they don’t know any of the teams they’re going to run into in the next couple of weeks, none of those teams knows them, either. Wisconsin might have them figured out, but N.C. State or Temple or Syracuse or UNLV doesn’t. They’re all going to have to figure out what to do with Cody Zeller, who plays like no big man anyone of them has ever seen. They’re going to have to guess how to stop Watford, who can post you up or bury the three on you, and how to handle Victor Oladipo’s athleticism, and how to adjust to the relentless fury Indiana brings at both ends.

Best guess is the Hoosiers get to Washington, get to the Elite Eight, then run into trouble against Miami, which has the physical bigs inside (Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson) to give Zeller fits, and which can play the deliberate style Wisconsin has used to beat them twice this season. And maybe it ends there.

Or not.

“It would be nice, but I’m not looking forward to that,” Oladipo said Sunday, when asked about the prospect of going home to D.C. for the Sweet Sixteen. “I’m looking forward to Dayton, winning in Dayton. That is all we’re focusing on. We’ve got to get ready this week, and …we’ll take it one game at a time."

What else is there?

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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