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THE MODERATOR: We’re now being joined by Indiana student‑athletes Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and Cody Zeller.
Q. Jordan, could you talk a little bit about what the job Yogi has done as a point guard and just as a freshman coming in, his maturity and leading a veteran group.
JORDAN HULLS: He’s done a tremendous job, Yogi has. Us older guys have really rallied around him, especially once the season got going, and just trying to help him get through whatever he had to get through.
He’s far and away one of the best players I’ve ever been around, especially at his age. He doesn’t play like a freshman. We look for him to do a lot of different things, and he creates a lot of opportunities for us.
Q. Victor, what do you see out of James Madison? Do they compare to any other team that you’ve played this year?
VICTOR OLADIPO: They’re a really good team. They won their conference. We watched a little bit of their game yesterday, and they do a lot of things well.
The thing about the Big Ten, it prepares you for anything. It prepares you not to take anyone lightly.
So we’re looking forward to the game tomorrow, and we’re looking forward to getting it started.
Q. Victor, how much do you know about Andre Nation on JMU with his defensive skills?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I don’t know too much, but I watched the game yesterday, and I watched their conference championship game. He does a lot of good things for them in order for them to win.
He does a lot of things well, whether it be on‑ball defending or blocking shots or things like that. So we’re going to have to match his intensity.
Q. Do you think he’d be able to slow you down if he matched up with you?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I mean, he’ll probably do whatever it takes to help his team win. Like I said before, he’s a good defender, and after watching the game yesterday, he does a lot to help his team win.
So we’re just looking forward to the game.
Q. To the guys up there not named Victor, he’s obviously got a big personality. What’s your best Victor story?
JORDAN HULLS: Best Victor story? He’s always singing, no matter where we’re at. Good thing I went first. Always singing. At our Hoosier Hysteria, he performed a little Usher for everybody at the arena. That was pretty cool. A little different, but that was a lot of fun.
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: Jordan stole mine.
CODY ZELLER: I was going to say the same thing, Christian and I both said. He’s always singing nonstop. I appreciate he gets a little country in there, so he always mixes it up.
Q. Cody, how has the start of this tournament experience compared to last year? Obviously, you coming in as a freshman last year, didn’t have any experience, no one else on the team did as well. How has this lead‑up to the tournament been compared to last year?
CODY ZELLER: It’s definitely very exciting for us. The tournament is‑‑ it’s kind of tough to explain just because it’s a whole new season. There’s a different feel about it.
It’s something you look forward to your whole life growing up, watching the NCAA Tournament growing up, and it’s definitely one of‑‑ an experience we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.
So it’s easy to play hard. It’s easy to put everything you got out there and try to make a memory out of it.
Q. Cody, you know going into this that there’s a huge size difference. How do you as a power forward center go into this trying to exploit the undersize of JMU?
CODY ZELLER: Every game that we go out to, we want to get inside to me and Christian, and our offense flows well after that. Even if me and Christian aren’t the ones that score it. So that’s always a big key for us.
Then also rebounding is a big part of it. Really the same stuff we’ve been doing all year, but it really gets us going, I guess.
Q. Victor, a 16 has never beat a 1. Does that put any kind of extra pressure on you guys tomorrow?
VICTOR OLADIPO: No. We’re just going to go out there and play basketball and play the way we need to play, play the way we played that got us to this point.
Like I said before, we’re looking forward to playing, and I know these guys are excited. I know I’m excited too. We just can’t wait to get started.
Q. Jordan and Christian, you’re here both as a No. 1 seed now, but looking back at where you started, do you still feel a lack of respect, even though you guys do have that No. 1 seed? Has it really sunk in that you guys are more respected now than you used to be?
JORDAN HULLS: It’s definitely a lot different than it used to be. The first couple of years Christian and I were at Indiana playing then, but as far as that, we’re just excited to be here and excited for the opportunity.
To be a No. 1 seed is a great honor, and we’re just going to cherish the moment, enjoy it, and go out there and have fun and play hard.
Q. Jordan, how has this group handled the higher expectations that have come this year, now that Indiana’s back where Indiana has been in the past?
JORDAN HULLS: I think we’ve handled it really well. We’ve taken it one game at a time all year, and we have to do that just because the conference that we play in. Like Victor was saying, you can’t take anybody lightly. There’s no easy games.
That’s going to help us in the tournament, especially for tomorrow. We’ve just got to get our minds wrapped around that and just try to play one game at a time and really focus on what’s most important.
Q. Cody, if I could follow up, how has that Big Ten kind of meat grinder kind of prepared you guys for this tournament?
CODY ZELLER: The biggest thing is there’s so many different styles. Big Ten prepared us well for whoever we could see, whether it’s up‑pace teams, 3‑point‑shooting teams, slow it down.
I think we’ve really seen every style we might see in the tournament, and it’s prepared us well just because every team in the Big Ten is so good and so competitive that I think we’ll be ready for anything.
Q. Cody, just want to get your thoughts on Yogi. You’ve known him for a while. What are two or three things that he maybe does a lot better now, now that he’s most of the way through the freshman year, that he couldn’t quite do before he came in playing college ball?
CODY ZELLER: Like you said, I played with him a long time. He’s a great passer. He’s always been a great passer, great vision. He’s become a better shooter than he was even back in high school.
He just does so many different things better now. He runs our team. The biggest thing is just throughout the season he’s continued to improve. It’s tough to kind of avoid hitting the freshman wall there that people talk about.
Halfway through the Big Ten season or so, it’s tough to stay motivated, stay on the right path, and keep on improving. I think he’s done a really nice job of that. It’s a big reason why we’re here.
Q. Victor, would anything short of a Final Four appearance be a disappointment for you guys?
VICTOR OLADIPO: I would say so. We’ve been through a lot, and we expect nothing but the best. We’re going to go into this tournament and try and win it. So any loss before then would be a disappointment because our main goal is to win the tournament, take it one game at a time, and just play together and have fun like Jordan was saying and play Indiana basketball.
Q. For Christian and Jordan, looking back, it’s a foregone conclusion to be a No. 1 seed this season. Do you reflect back on any moments as the program has come back that stand out? I mean, Christian, your shot. Like things over the years, do you ever step back and think, wow, this had to go right, we had to do this, this, and this, and then kind of the whole overall picture?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: I can’t really put a pinpoint on a certain thing, but I can just remember us constantly working, working every day, and just trying to get better.
These guys have done a great job of improving over the years as well as the whole team. It definitely took a team mindset to get here, and we embrace this point.
JORDAN HULLS: I’d say just the work ethic that the older guys are able to instill in the younger guys. It’s going to continue to go on and on. I think that’s what really got us to where we are.
We’ve come a long way, the guys that have been here for a while, from having losing seasons to having winning seasons. I would just say all the hard work that we put in and the coaches having faith in us.
Q. Pardon me for the frivolous question, but I was just wondering what kind of James Madison trivia you guys knew. Do you know what conference they’re in, what their mascot is, where their school is located, that kind of stuff?
VICTOR OLADIPO: They’re in the CAA. I think they’re like the Dukes, James Madison Dukes. What was the other one? They’re from Virginia, the DMV. Yeah, I’m from there, so I know a little somethin’‑somethin’ about James Madison.
Q. Do you guys know who James Madison, the figure, is?
VICTOR OLADIPO: He signed the Declaration or something like that. You mean the person, right? James Madison, he signed something big, like the Declaration of Independence. I’m right, right? Emancipation Proclamation, something like that.
One of those big names. I know he’s a big historic figure in U.S. history.
CODY ZELLER: Do you know what a Hoosier is?
VICTOR OLADIPO: Do you know what an Indiana Hoosier is?
Q. Not really.
VICTOR OLADIPO: I think I’m 4‑0. I think I won that little trivia challenge right there.
Q. As painful as it might have been, were those losses down the stretch kind of a reminder how quickly this could all come to an end?
JORDAN HULLS: You hate to lose no matter what situation, no matter what point in the season. It does give our team a different mindset that we needed to have.
We were able to learn from our mistakes and why we lost those games. So it was good for us from that standpoint. You just got to‑‑ you can’t take any games for granted, which is going to be huge for us.
THE MODERATOR: Victor, Jordan, Christian, and Cody, thanks for your time. Good luck tomorrow.
We are now being joined by Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Coach, if you’d like, we’ll start with an opening statement.
COACH CREAN: First and foremost, we want to thank everybody here in Dayton. We’ve just only been in UD Arena for a short period of time, but being in Dayton, being at the hotel, the reception, the way everybody’s treating us in a short period of time has been fantastic.
It’s very easy to understand why there’s been more NCAA Tournament games in this city than any other place. I believe that’s true, right? I think that’s tremendous.
As far as us, I believe the thing we think about the most as coaches and as a staff, that the Big Ten prepares you for anything and everything, and the one thing it totally prepares you for is to never take anything lightly, to have your preparation be as good for one game as it is for the other, to build a consistency in your team that comes from that consistency of work and preparation, and that’s exactly how we feel about this tournament.
It’s totally been about getting ready for one game. Obviously, we didn’t know who it was going to be until last night, but we spent ample time all week long getting ready for James Madison and Long Island, and from last night when that game ended, we were completely centered on what we had to do to play and beat James Madison.
We have great respect for them. They’re a conference champion. Matt Brady is an excellent coach, and he’s got Mike Deane on his staff, who’s one of the best coaches in this game. There’s no question about it. I followed him at Marquette. I know what kind of character he has, and I know what kind of players and people he recruited and how he coached them because I got to inherit those guys.
I had some very fun years early on at Marquette with the young people that we had there.
As a team, they’re athletic, they’re skilled, they’re certainly experienced when you look at all the fifth‑year guys that they have. They play very well together. They do a great job of blending their experience with their young freshmen, and it’s been really interesting to watch the cohesiveness develop in that team as we’ve watched the films over the last three days or so, four days, and watched them develop their team this year.
So we have great respect for James Madison.
Q. Coach, I know it doesn’t guarantee anything. You’re not going to look too far ahead, but what kind of honor is it for you guys in this program to see the President of the United States picture you guys going all the way?
COACH CREAN: I think it’s nice. I haven’t seen it personally, heard about it. I think it’s really good.
But I’m also concerned that someone said that he was 1‑3 in his picks before. So you’re always going to be‑‑ you hope he’s right on this one.
But we’re not going to look too far ahead. I think the most important thing is our guys have been really good about taking what’s been said and not letting it affect them either way, and it’s not any different right now.
Q. Matt Brady said he met you maybe a couple of years ago at an AAU Tournament and he was almost flattered that you knew who he was. Can you just talk about what you see from him as a coach and what you know about him.
COACH CREAN: I’ve known of him for a long time, since he played for Mike, I believe, at Siena, and when he was at St. Joe’s. Coaches pay attention to coaches because we’re always paying attention to programs. I’ve always thought he was an outstanding coach.
And what he did at Marist, fantastic. You can tell he really develops his players, and I think that’s a great trait for any leader, but you can just see‑‑ like when you watch them play against UCLA and a couple of their games at the very beginning of the year to where they are now, it’s like two different teams. It truly is.
And I think that’s a great sign of a coach and a coaching staff and the way that they develop their team. They’re very skilled. They play very well together. They play both ends of the court extremely hard and diligent. That doesn’t happen if you don’t have outstanding coaching.
Q. Spending the year so highly ranked and the preseason ranking and everything like that, how did that prepare this group to go into this as a No. 1 seed?
COACH CREAN: We’ll find out. But I think the one thing that you would look back at our season, and there has never been a time that this team has not brought a ton of effort and energy. Now, we haven’t always played great. We haven’t always won. We lost two games at home. We lost two games on the road. We lost two neutral games.
But in one of those games, or in the ones that we won, did we not show up to play. I think that’s a great sign of maturity. That’s not taking an opponent lightly. That’s knowing that you have things to correct and get better at.
But it’s never coming in feeling like you’re entitled or enabled and you just get to show up and play.
When I look around the country and see that our team did that, I think it speaks volumes about their maturity and how they’ve handled all of this because, remember, a year ago they went from the guys that were veterans in this program, went from losing 20‑plus games and being four wins short of even qualifying for an NIT appearance, to having the highest winning percentage in the league the last two years.
So they’ve done a great job of continuing to stay focused on getting better day after day. I don’t think it happens without that.
Q. I know you want to win them all, but can there be a benefit to maybe a couple of stumbles down the stretch like you guys had?
COACH CREAN: I think as long as you’re improving from them. We’ve learned a lot, I think, from Saturday’s game against Wisconsin. Just like we learned a lot after we lost at Minnesota coming home for Iowa, and like we learned a lot when we lost to Ohio State. We bounced right back.
I don’t think, if you’re learning, there’s no way you go to Michigan and win a game with everything that was on the line that day and with the‑‑ just the tension and the intensity of the entire place. You don’t win if you’re not getting better.
So the best thing about this team is do they learn from their mistakes, do they build on their strengths, and do they know the difference. That’s the‑‑ you can’t take a weakness into a game and say, well, I’ll just work on it in the game. You’ve got to take the weakness to practice, in the film room, and get it fixed and see if it can become a strength in the game. If not, you’ve got to stay away from it until you get it there.
Q. Now that you guys are actually here, do you see a difference in the way the players are approaching this day as opposed to last year when they were making their first jump?
COACH CREAN: I wouldn’t say that, because this has been a little different because for a couple of days of practice we really focused on commonalities. We focused on improving us. We focused on different things. We did very few team sets and did a lot more concepts that we felt could play into it.
Certainly, we’re well aware of James Madison’s strengths‑‑ and we knew Long Island’s. But James Madison, with their ability to score inside, with the experience that they have, we were very tuned in to what they were about and trying to put some of those things into practice.
But then last night, it just turned it right over. And they were sharp in our walk‑throughs. There’s no question that we’re probably going to have to replace the carpet in the ballroom at the hotel by the way they were sliding and moving their feet. They’re just into it.
I think that there’s‑‑ I want them to have fun, and I want them to enjoy it, but at the same time, I think they have a very strong business approach to this. Not where it’s drudgery, but where there’s a great focus.
Q. Coach, does the history of a 16‑1 matchup add any pressure going into this game for you all?
COACH CREAN: I think pressure is however you view it. We can look at it like there’s been pressure the entire year because we were ranked No. 1 from like three days after the Final Four last year, or we can look at it like our guys have used all that to fuel them to make them better.
I don’t think it’s about the seed. I think it’s about how good James Madison is. I don’t know what coach I read said it, seeds don’t matter. They matter very little right now. And he’s probably right because there’s so much parity in the game.
When you’re looking at James Madison, you’re looking at a battle‑tested team. You’re looking at a team that can score inside and outside, certainly a great experience, and freshmen that are getting better inside of their group. They know how they want to play. They know how to win.
So you’re focusing on the team and focusing on their strengths, and you’re trying to find some things that you can get after more than you’re focusing on the fact that they’re a 16 seed and you’re a 1 seed. That’s not really anything we spend any time talking about.
Q. Izzo said that he would rather face the Lakers once he got through that Big Ten meat grinder. Did you kind of feel the same way once you were gone?
COACH CREAN: I wouldn’t want to play the Lakers. Kobe? Victor Oladipo can guard just about anybody, but Kobe is Kobe.
In seriousness, this was an incredibly challenging year, and last year was, but this year was because we were in the race. We had a chance to win it the entire way, and then we ended up winning it. So when you do that, there’s no question that takes a lot out of you.
But what’s happened is it’s just built the confidence for these guys, and we’ve spent time this week making sure that we’re getting our energy back because it does take a lot. Then you turn right around and go into a conference tournament.
So to me, when you’re in‑‑ it’s this mental and physical warfare for 18‑ to 22‑year‑olds playing sports. I don’t use “warfare” loosely with what goes on in this world. I don’t mean it like that at all. But when you’re out there like that and you’ve got to bring your best, and it’s moment by moment, not just possession by possession, when it’s pass by pass, okay, not just segments of the game, that takes a lot out of you.
Really, the epitome of it was for us the day we won the championship at Michigan, it coming down to we needed‑‑ we got 53 rebounds in the game, and we needed all 53 to win the game. If we get 52 and they get one tip, goes back in, we lose the game.
So what you learn is that everything matters. That’s hard to get to when we’re dealing with young men like this, but they just keep bouncing back and moving forward, and I love it.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you for your time.