Indiana, ranked fourth in the latest polls after beginning the year as the preseason No. 1, has made it their mission not to overlook any opponent during what they hope to be a six-game run to the school’s sixth national title.
The tone Yogi Ferrell helped set early against James Madison in an 83-62 romp in Friday’s NCAA East Regional game at the University of Dayton Arena at least showed the Hoosiers are focused on doing just that.
“That’s why we’re such a tough team to beat because we have so many weapons,” said Cody Zeller. “Yogi proved that tonight. We have like five or six guys who can score 15 or 20 points on any night. No matter how long you prepare for us we have a lot of different weapons.”
Ferrell’s 16 points led five IU players in double figures against the Dukes, with Will Sheehey scoring 15 off the bench, Zeller and Victor Oladipo each tallying 11 and Jordan Hulls 10.
“We definitely didn’t take them lightly. We prepared for them just like Big Ten teams,” said Zeller.
Added Oladipo: “That’s pretty good for us, for (Yogi) to come out and play at a high level like he did. When he plays at a high level, our team does.”
– Yogi and No. 11: Yogi Ferrell is aware of the comparisons people are quick to make about him and Isiah Thomas, but he said Friday that he chose the No. 11 because it was the number his father wore.
But yes, he’s aware that Thomas, who led IU to a pair of Big Ten titles and the 1981 national championship, made the doubles ones a revered number in Bloomington.
“The great Isiah Thomas wore it. It’s a legendary number, I’d say,” said Ferrell after scoring 16 points to lead the Hoosiers to an 83-62 win over James Madison.
But Ferrell chose the number as a way to honor his dad, Kevin Sr., who had the foresight to reel his son away from the AAU spotlight as an eighth grader in favor of individual skill development after too many expectations were placed on him too soon.
Ferrell has said he didn’t initially understand what his father was doing but now knows it was the right decision.
“I got number 11 because of my dad. He used to wear it and I wanted to wear it just like him,” he said.
As for Thomas, Ferrell said he got to meet him earlier this season, appropriately enough, when the Hoosiers played in the Legends Classic in New York.
It’s fair to suggest that Ferrell’s growing legend got an upgrade Friday night when he scored IU’s first nine points and 14 in leading the Hoosiers to an early 18-5 lead.
“If they weren’t going to cut me off I was just going to lay it up again,” he said.
– Speedy Hoosiers: Ferrell’s speed had the Dukes on their heels earlier, but the IU point guard didn’t deny that 7-footer Cody Zeller might be able to beat him in a race down the court.
The two used that combined speed on the play that gave IU a 30-point lead, 56-26, with just under 14 minutes remaining Friday. Ferrell led the break, and knowing Zeller was closing fast, tossed the basketball to the big guy for a rim-rattling exclamation mark.
“He might be able to (beat me),” said Ferrell of Zeller. “He’s fast. He’s got long legs, really like ostrich legs, so he can move on the court.”
– Up next: Indiana will play Temple in a third-round NCAA game at approximately 1:45 p.m. Sunday with CBS televising the contest.
Oladipo said the Hoosiers only got to see a few minutes of Temple’s early destruction of N.C. State. The Owls, however, had to fend off a comeback by the Wolfpack before earning a 76-72 win.
“(We saw) a little bit of it, but we couldn’t watch too much of it,” said Oladipo. “But we know they are a good team and have great players.”
Oladipo said the players know that at this point in the season, anything can and will happen. All anyone has to do, he said, is look at all of the upsets in the tournament that already have taken place.
One of those to fall was Wisconsin, a No. 5 seed in the West, that lost to No. 12 seed Mississippi.
The Badgers beat IU twice this season, including in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. But despite that, Oladipo said he wasn’t rooting for Wisconsin to have a short run in the tournament.
“No, that’s unfortunate. I want everybody in the Big Ten to do well because we are such a great league. That’s unfortunate they got the loss because they are a great team and they are well coached.”
The Hoosiers and Badgers wouldn’t have met in the tournament unless it was in the championship game.