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Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers back in the big time

Indianforward Cody Zeller goes up for shot against Wisconsforward Mike Bruesewitz first half an NCAA college basketball game second round

Indiana forward Cody Zeller goes up for a shot against Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis, Friday, March 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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Updated: November 27, 2012 11:09AM



When Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was asked if the return of Indiana to its traditional seat of power signaled a changing of the guard in the Big Ten, he wouldn’t go that far.

‘‘I struggle when anybody says that about anything,’’ Izzo said Thursday at Big Ten media day at the O’Hare Hyatt. ‘‘I think the dynasties of the UCLA days are gone for any of us.’’

The question was more about the need to make room for another chair at the grown-ups’ table than Indiana riding roughshod.

There’s no question that the balance of power seems to be in for a shift. With IU demanding a piece of the pie, life is going to get tougher for Izzo’s Spartans, Ohio State and Wisconsin — three programs that have accomplished so much for so long. The bar also will be raised for up-and-coming programs, notably Michigan, let alone the rest of the league.

No one’s expecting Indiana to be a dynasty. But it’s reasonable to assume the Hoosiers will be a Big Ten factor for the foreseeable future.

‘‘There are traditional [powers], and Indiana is definitely one,’’ Izzo said. ‘‘The fans there are knowledgeable; it’s been that way forever. You get a good coach in a state that has good players, and you’re going to have a good program.’’

Izzo, who thinks Tom Crean is the real deal, ought to know. Crean was his right-hand man when he was turning Michigan State into a perennial power.

‘‘Tom is the right guy for that job,’’ Izzo said. ‘‘He’s going to have a good program.’’

With virtually everyone back from last year’s accomplished 27-9 team, an even bigger breakout season is in order. But Crean is trying to keep perspective on the hype that has seen the Hoosiers anointed the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. IU also is being joined at the hip with perennial powers Kentucky and Louisville to form a ground zero of college basketball in the heartland.

‘‘There’s no doubt the attention the team has gotten has been good,’’ Crean said. ‘‘It makes for good conversation.’’

But Crean also cautioned that a lot more will be known when games are played.

‘‘Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State won the championship last year,’’ he said. ‘‘Until somebody unseats them, that’s the way it is.’’

What we do know is that IU, which won more Big Ten games last year (11-7) than in Crean’s first three years combined (8-46), has a lot of pieces in place. And the Hoosiers’ growing pains have toughened them up.

Sophomore center Cody Zeller, the preseason favorite for Big Ten and national player of the year, heard the stories from players on Crean’s first team, which went 6-25.

‘‘That definitely makes it more satisfying with where we’re at right now,’’ said Zeller, intrigued by the lure of rebuilding a historic program. ‘‘You’re always going to have high expectations. That was definitely a plus when I was being recruited.’’

Senior forward Christian Watford remembers all the days he put into helping the Hoosiers become an overnight success.

‘‘Y’all may feel like it happened pretty fast, but it definitely didn’t happen fast,’’ Watford said. ‘‘It was a constant grind for us. You had those days where you were stuck in the mud, but our coaches did a great job of letting us know better days were coming, and here we are.’’

Get used to it, Big Ten.



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