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Indiana University

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Veteran IU has higher expectations

– The preseason publications predict Indiana will improve. Some have the Hoosiers as high as sixth in the Big Ten.

IU guard Verdell Jones III, for one, is thinking bigger.

“For me, I just want to have a taste of what going to the Big Dance feels like,” the senior said at Big Ten media day Thursday at Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare.

“I’ve seen how Hoosier Nation has been when we’re losing. I want to see how we are when we are winning. I took a visit when Eric Gordon was here and I saw how crazy that was, so I want to see how they react when we get back on top.”

IU has won 6, 10 and 12 games in Tom Crean’s first three seasons. Improvements, the coach said, starts mentally.

“We’re in a position right now where I think we’re trying to have a real ‘climb mentality’ in the sense if we’re going to climb in this league, if we’re going to climb back to where we want Indiana to be, it has to be a daily process and one that’s not just about skill development and team development, but the mentality that you have to have,” Crean said.

Experience is finally on Indiana’s side.

IU had just one senior last season (Jeremiah Rivers). The team entered this fall with eight upperclassmen (a ninth, Maurice Creek, is likely out for the year after surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon).

The Hoosiers bring back 93 percent of their scoring, including three double-digit scorers (Christian Watford at 16 points per game, Jones at 12.5 and Jordan Hulls at 11).

Opponents are noticing.

“With the experience that they have, they are well-positioned there,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said.

Add in the freshman class, featuring 6-foot-11 forward Cody Zeller, and fans have a reason to be more optimistic.

“There’s definitely more expectations,” Hulls said. “We’ve got good freshmen coming in. We’re more mature. We have more seniors this year. We have a lot of juniors. Time is flying by. The expectations have gone up, from the maturity level and from who we’re bringing in. I feel like we’re ready for that challenge.”

Jones sees advantages to expectations.

“I think the added pressure can help drive us,” Jones said. “It can help us in practice want to do better. It can help us in games wanting to win close games.

“If we can stay healthy, we can make really big improvements. We’re looking forward to it, and we’ll see how it goes.”

IU is approaching the season with patience.

“We just have to take it one step at a time. We can’t let it get to our heads, we can’t get nervous about it,” Hulls said. “We just have to go out there and play. We have to go into practice with the same mindset of getting better on the defensive end and just getting better, period.”

lpope@jg.net

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