Updated: November 28, 2012, 9:35 AM ET

Indiana's Statement Is Loud And Clear

Myron Medcalf
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Hours before tipoff of No. 1 Indiana's 83-59 victory over No. 14 North Carolina Tuesday night, Hoosiers fans twisted and turned in a disjointed line that seemed to circle the entire campus. The faithful eventually poured into Assembly Hall and chanted, cheered and chewed up the opposing Tar Heels with vocal cords that collectively echoed the trembles of a train rolling through a Southern countryside.

Their piercing tones rivaled the significance of the event, the most highly anticipated matchup on Day 1 of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and another meaningful game in Indiana's ongoing renaissance. After a brief fizzle in the first half -- once Carolina became feisty for a brief stretch -- the team's backers regained their fervor.

[+] Enlarge
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCody Zeller had reason to celebrate against North Carolina.

But with every offensive wave that turned a competitive encounter into an embarrassment for the visitors, their pitch changed. They no longer screamed like stunned observers surprised by the turn of a program that won just three Big Ten games a few years ago. They began to react like a crowd that expected victory, even against a perennial titan.

The Hoosiers were good last season. Whipping North Carolina wasn't necessary to prove that.

But this 7-0 start -- a run that has included wins over an average Georgia squad, an underrated Georgetown program and the overmatched Tar Heels -- is the trailer to the program's evolution. Entranced supporters spilled onto the team's home floor after its win over No. 1 Kentucky on Christian Watford's buzzer-beater last December. Less than a year later, however, players, coaches and fans acted like folks attached to a program with much loftier goals.

The Heels kept the matchup close in the first 15 minutes. But a late run in the first half turned the nozzle of an offense that flooded the young program after halftime. With nearly 10 minutes to play, Indiana led by nearly 30 points.

Cody Zeller finished with 20. Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey added 19 apiece. Jordan Hulls, however, recorded the night's most impressive stat line: 13 points (3-for-5 from beyond the arc), seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals and zero turnovers.

Indiana's commitment to defense has been questioned throughout Tom Crean's tenure. But when the Hoosiers pressured, the Tar Heels started the second half 1-for-20 from the field. All indicative of its status.

"This program, over the past couple years, has really been struggling," Oladipo said. "We're trying to get it back to where it belongs and that's on top."

Let's eliminate the excuses now. P.J. Hairston stayed in Chapel Hill due to injury. This is one of Roy Williams' youngest teams. And it was obvious early. The Tar Heels don't know how to play together, so they certainly didn't have a clue when challenged to respond as the nation's most efficient offense entered Beast Mode.

But the margin is significant. Indiana pounced when it could have coasted. The win alone wasn't sufficient. The Hoosiers wanted to make a statement.

Here's what they said: We're elite again.

Sure, the focus of last season's success was the program's surge after the initial challenges that Crean inherited when he took over the program in 2008. But Indiana's victory over the Tar Heels -- and its overall start to the 2012-13 season -- signified that it has renewed its membership to college basketball's country club.

In recent years, the Hoosiers had been denied access. They stood outside the door name-dropping -- "Bob Knight, Isiah Thomas, Quinn Buckner, Scott May?" -- in their effort to maintain the slot they'd enjoyed for so long. But they were phased out of the national conversation by their recent misfortunes. The program's legacy was slowly buried by its crumbling prospects.

Yet Crean began to rebuild with a crazy vision that's led to IU's position as the No. 1 team in the country.

Hello, Hoosiers. Right this way. We'll show you to your table.

Last season, there were glimpses of the program's possibilities. This year, through seven games, there's just proof. Proof that Indiana can be and will be the best team in America come April, if this progress continues.

After Tuesday's lopsided win, players were loose.

At one point, Oladipo sang a line from the "Cops" theme song after calling Hulls "a bad boy." Sheehey laughed. Zeller feigned sympathy when he was told that the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that drafted his brother and former North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller, had lost to the Phoenix Suns.

They didn't beat their chests because they beat up the Tar Heels. They didn't make promises they'd regret by sunrise. They remained humble while espousing their obvious potential.

"We can't be comfortable where we're at," Zeller said.

After Crean entered the press room, he offered a similar perspective on his team's furious November. Nothing beyond the typical coaching clichés. The team will work hard and continue to improve. That's the goal.

But he also admitted that this experience is one that the entire program is still deciphering.

"I've never been a part of a team that was No. 1 in the country to start the season," he said. "We're all learning together."

Tuesday's lesson: The Hoosiers can beat any team in America.

Michigan's Burke, Stauskas Up To Challenge

Michael Rothstein
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It is an adjustment which could seem massive, but became subtle the second Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke saw what he was working with.

Making the decision to spurn the NBA for a second year in college, he showed up for summer open gyms, watched his new and returning teammates and figured his role could change slightly this season.

How else to explain how, in just one half, Burke tied his career high for assists in a game Tuesday during No. 3 Michigan's 79-72 victory over No. 18 North Carolina State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Oh, he didn't score in the half, either.

A scoreless Burke, even for a half, might have led to a Michigan loss a season ago. Almost certainly it would have led to a major struggle for the Wolverines back then.

"Oh, that would have been difficult," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "But with nine assists, though, at the end of those nine assists someone is scoring."

This season, it is merely just part of the transformation, where arguably the nation's best point guard can distribute first, second, third and fourth, take only two shots in a half, find guys open nine times for baskets and his team could lead for the majority of the half anyway.

To read the rest of this story, click here.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge Live Chat

ESPN.com staff

Whether at home or on press row, our staff of writers chatted for hours Tuesday night during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Relive the debates and commentary here:


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?