Tom Crean's rebuilding effort has earned him a well-deserved contract extension, and the evidence proudly was displayed in Indiana's season opener.
The top-ranked Hoosiers look to start 2-0 for the fifth straight season under Crean - and sixth overall - when they host North Dakota State on Monday night.
Indiana's once-proud program was a mess when Crean took over prior to the 2008-09 campaign following NCAA violations under previous coach Kelvin Sampson, going 28-66 over Crean's first three seasons.
The Hoosiers greatly improved in 2011-12 with help from Cody Zeller and Christian Watford, among others, beating three teams ranked in the top five for the first time in program history before falling to eventually national champion Kentucky in the regional semifinals.
All five starters returned for this season leading to a No. 1 preseason ranking for the first time in 33 years, and athletic director Fred Glass announced prior to Friday's 97-54 win over Bryant that Crean has been given an extension through 2019-20.
"It's pretty special, you know. He's helped us more ways than you can imagine, on and off the floor, making men out of us really,'' said senior Jordan Hulls, who scored nine points. "It's really cool to see him rewarded for the hard work he's put in for us.''
Zeller scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Watford, whose buzzer-beating 3-pointer beat No. 1 Kentucky 73-72 on Dec. 10, added 15 points and a career-best 15 rebounds.
The two nearly combined to match Bryant's 29 total rebounds. Crean said Watford's rebounding needs to continue improving his senior season to impress NBA scouts.
"He knows that's an objective, the next level needs to see that at a high level,'' Crean said. "He got 15 boards and he's probably not going to grade as high in the block outs, so there's room for improvement.''
Zeller said despite the blowout that Indiana as a team needs to continue improving.
"We've got to defend and rebound to be successful this year, and I thought we did fairly well throughout the game,'' said Zeller, who helped the Hoosiers hold Bryant to 32.3 percent shooting. "But there were a few plays where we didn't do that and we'll go back to work on it.''
The Hoosiers may be in for a battle on the boards against a North Dakota State squad that held a 42-16 rebounding edge in its season-opening 93-47 win over NAIA school Valley City State on Friday.
The Bison also shot 59.0 percent, as Mike Felt finished 8 for 12 - including 6 for 9 from 3-point range - and scored a career-high 23 points off the bench. Taylor Braun, the team's leading scorer last season, went 7 for 13 and netted 19 points.
North Dakota State, which was picked to finish second in the Summit League, has split its last four games against ranked opponents. The Bison upset No. 15 Wisconsin on Jan. 21, 2006, before knocking off Crean-led No. 8 Marquette 64-60 on Dec. 2 of that same year.
They lost at No. 14 Kansas in 2009 and at No. 17 Minnesota in 2010.
Indiana and North Dakota State have never met, and the Bison are 1-6 all-time against the Big Ten.
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