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Indiana University

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Associated Press
Indiana’s Victor Oladipo goes in for two of his 15 points Saturday against Michigan. Oladipo said the Hoosiers’ likely return to No. 1 in the national polls was the result of hard work.

IU focuses on improving

Hoosiers say No. 1 ranking nice, but goal is to finish season strong

– The chant started from the student section at Assembly Hall with about 39 seconds remaining.

“No. 1, No. 1.”

Indiana was on the verge of knocking off the top-ranked Wolverines on Saturday. Coupled with an 85-80 loss by No. 2 Kansas to Oklahoma State, the fans knew the Hoosiers are likely headed back to the top of the national polls. Indiana defeated No. 1 Michigan 81-73 in front of 17,472 fans at Assembly Hall.

“I said to the team after the game, ‘We were picked No. 1 in April. We hadn’t done anything. And when you lose, it’s like how did you lose? We picked you No. 1.’ ” That’s not what they play for,’” IU coach Tom Crean said. “I think that’s great. They are learning that those things are great. But the playing to improve, the playing to be good enough to win a game like this, to make adjustments, play through some mistakes and deal with some adversity. That’s what’s most important.”

Crean credited the team’s improvements with handling the ball (five turnovers in the second half after 11 in the first) and defending three-pointers as keys to the win. Michigan was 2 of 11 from three-point territory in the first half and 7 of 23 for the game.

The Associated Press Top 25 poll is released today. The players are trying to keep the rankings in perspective.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Victor Oladipo said of the possible return to the top spot. “We started there. We had a hard road to get back here. But we’re taking it one game at a time. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We’re just going to continue to keep working.”

Indiana (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten) was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and held the top spot until losing to Butler 88-86 in overtime Dec. 15 in Indianapolis.

“I don’t get the sense that these guys are locked into those rankings at all,” Crean said. “When we were No. 1 in mid-December, they know what was said. Were we any worse because we lost by two? We didn’t play that great that day, but it wasn’t like the sky was falling.

“We had to come in here and make sure they understood that. That’s what’s most important. When they lose sight of the most important thing is how they play together and how they work and improve together, then you have issues. We don’t plan on having any issues. We plan on keep making sure we stay locked into that and not let any of the nice things, the negative things, any of that stuff become a driving force for them.”

Oladipo said the team will have the same approach regardless of where it stands in the rankings.

“We’ve been having a chip on our shoulder since I got here,” Oladipo said. “And we’re going to continue to play with chip because it can be taken at any second. We’re going to go back and continue to keep getting better, not only in games, but in practices as well. Keep playing for each other and staying together.”

lpope@jg.net

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