Tar Heels, Hoosiers ready for showcase game


Tar Heels, Hoosiers ready for showcase game

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Tom Crean already has one major victory over North Carolina.

He got Cody Zeller.

Now Roy Williams must figure out how to defend the recruit that got away to avoid losing again Tuesday night when No. 14 North Carolina meets No. 1 Indiana in the marquee matchup of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

``He's the guy that makes everybody else change their defense and you have to be concerned about him,'' Williams said. ``He gave them a legitimate inside scorer that could foul out the other players. I just think he's a great player, a great player.''

In Bloomington, Zeller means more than that.

As a freshman, he helped put the Hoosiers back on the national map.

This year, he's considered the best big man in America, was a near-unanimous preseason All-America selection and is one of the favorites to be national player of the year.

His impact can be measured one way - in wins and losses. Without Zeller, Crean was 28-66 in three seasons. With him, the Hoosiers are 33-9 in a little more than two seasons.

On Tuesday night, he will be the center of attention again, though Crean has other concerns.

``They bring some things that we've not seen, and I'm not sure that we've ever seen here,'' Crean said. ``I'm not sure we've ever seen a fast break like there's here at Assembly Hall, and James McAdoo is as good a rebounder on the offensive end as anyone we've seen this year or any other year.''

The game pits two of college basketball's truest blood-blood programs against one another. The schools have combined for 10 national championships and 3,766 all-time wins - the most prominent being Indiana's victory in the 1981 national championship game.

But some of the biggest battles have come off the court.

When the Tar Heels last visited Bloomington in 2004, the Hoosiers had to deal with another recruit that got away - Sean May, who was booed mercilessly in his home city.

That won't happen this time, in large part because Indiana didn't let Zeller get away to North Carolina.

Williams was hoping to steal a second Zeller from the Hoosier State, and it almost happened. Zeller's older brother, Tyler, graduated from North Carolina last year and was a first-round pick in the NBA draft.

``It was real close,'' Cody Zeller said Monday. ``They were in my top three. I have a lot of respect for everything they do, the coaching staff is great and Tyler really enjoyed his time there. I just thought Indiana was the best place for me, and I have no regrets about that.''

But Williams knows that focusing solely on Zeller would be dangerous because the Hoosiers (6-0) are not a one-man team.

The Hoosiers are fourth nationally in scoring (88.7), lead the Big Ten in defensive rebounding, rebounding margin and scoring margin and are shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from 3-point range.

If the Tar Heels (5-1) learned anything from their loss last week to another team from Indiana, two-time national runner-up Butler, it's this: They must be ready to play 40 minutes.

``We tried to challenge them the last couple of days that we've got to play better than that,'' Williams said of the Tar Heels' trip to Maui where they finished third. ``I haven't noticed the extra energy or the bounce because I've worked the dickens out of them.''

The Hoosiers do know what to expect.

After surviving challenges from Georgia and Georgetown last week, Indiana made a defensive statement in Sunday's 48-point victory over Ball State.

And now, a little more than 48 hours later, they are preparing for a game the students have been anticipating for months.

How excited are the fans? Students started camping in front of Assembly Hall on Monday morning. It's not the first time the Hoosiers have seen it.

``It's probably going to be a lot like the Kentucky game last year,'' sophomore guard Remy Abell said. ``It might even be better. It's going to be crazy.''

Both teams will be short-handed.

Indiana will play again without 6-foot-9 forward Derek Elston, who is expected to be out until after Christmas following knee surgery, and 6-8 freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea and 7-foot center Peter Jurkin, who were suspended nine games by the NCAA. That could create problems against the biggest foe Indiana has faced this season.

North Carolina will be without sophomore guard P.J. Hairston, who is averaging 10.8 points. He didn't travel with the team because of a knee injury.

Meaning the difference could be Zeller.

``I'm not going to put five guys on Cody. He is an emphasis and he would have to be the main emphasis, but we're not designing a defense for him,'' Williams said. ``I'm not going up there trying to stop Cody Zeller. I'm trying to go up there to beat Indiana.''

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

John Wall crossed one of the biggest hurdles of his months-long recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery on Saturday by participating in his first full practice.

That means Wall went through 5-on-5 scrimmages with teammates that included contact. He is free of restrictions.

Now it is only a matter of days before Wall is ready to return to game action.

"John did everything, he did an entire practice which was great," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a great job offensively and defensively."


Wall, who last played on Jan. 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has missed the Wizards' last 24 games. He has been absent for 35 of their 72 total games this season.

In the months he has been out, Wall has slowly worked his way to this point. He still has to get a few more practices under his belt before the Wizards can outline a target date for his return.

Wall was aggressive in testing his knee by attacking the basket, according to Brooks. Wall was moving around well and even lost a few pounds during his time off.

"He looks great and that's not easy with time off," Brooks said. "He will be back in no time."


The Wizards have gone 14-10 since Wall went down, an impressive mark especially considering how tough their schedule shook out. Most of those games came against teams with winning records either holding playoff spots or fighting for them.

The shine, though, is wearing off. They have lost two straight games and seven of their last 11. Their offense has stalled in recent defeats and it's become more and more clear they could use Wall's presence.

"He gives us that edge," Wall said. "When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket... I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don't have him around you definitely miss it."

While the Wizards continue to wait for Wall to return to games, just having him in practices helps. Brooks explained how guarding a player of Wall's caliber, a five-time All-Star, raises the intensity level of their scrimmages. If his teammates do not bring their best effort, Wall can very easily expose them.


There is also something intangible about Wall's presence. The media sees it once the doors open at practice. He is talkative and energetic on the court.

Some of his teammates even described him as "loud."

"Sometimes I tell him that he's a little too loud," guard Bradley Beal said. "But that's the energy that we've missed."

"He brings the juice. He brings the energy level up," Brooks said. "You miss his spirit. You miss the way he interacts with guys. He's fiery and competitive. He gets after guys. He cheers guys on. I like that. I like guys that show emotion and passion on the court."

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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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