Indiana's Cody Zeller shoots during the Hoosiers' practice Thursday in Dayton, Ohio. Many experts - and even President Obama - have picked IU to win the national title.


DAYTON, Ohio - It's tough enough living up to the lofty expectations of those die-hard Hoosiers fans, born and bred to bleed crimson and cream.

This March, Indiana carries an even heavier weight.

The White House is watching.

President Obama, the nation's basketballer-in-chief, has picked the Hoosiers to be NCAA champions.

"It's nice," Indiana coach Tom Crean said of the presidential seal of approval. "It's really good. But I'm also concerned that someone said that he was 1-3 in his picks before. You hope he's right on this one."

Strapped with a No. 1 ranking almost since the season tipped off in November, the Hoosiers (27-6) will be overwhelming favorites today when they meet No. 16 seed James Madison in the first round of the East Regional.

It's essentially a warm-up game for the the Big Ten's regular-season champions, but Crean knows his players won't overlook the fearless Dukes (21-14), who beat LIU Brooklyn on Wednesday night in the First Four.

Crean knows something about overcoming long odds. It's been an uphill climb, but he has Indiana looking like the Indiana of old. Five years ago, he inherited a program that had bottomed out, leveled by NCAA sanctions and disgraced by scandal under former coach Kelvin Sampson. Crean won just six games in his first season, 10 and 12 the next two.

Last year, the Hoosiers returned to the NCAA field for the first time since 2007 and won two games before losing to eventual champ Kentucky.

The mission in 2013 is simple: Hang a title banner inside Assembly Hall next to the ones from 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981 and 1987.

UNC's 3s could cause Villanova problems

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Villanova fans had no idea when Miami beat North Carolina 68-59 back in January that something bad had just happened to them.

It was then that a discouraged Roy Williams decided to stray from his long-established coaching philosophy and install a smaller lineup. As a result, Carolina (24-10) has turned its season around and developed some topflight three-point shooters.

That could be a problem when Villanova (20-13) faces North Carolina today in the second round of the NCAA tournament because perimeter defense has been a season-long bugaboo for the Wildcats.

Duke trying to avoid another early exit

PHILADELPHIA - The last time Duke entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed was last year and the Blue Devils didn't last too long.

They lost to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the second round, a stunning upset that will have an effect on both Duke and this year's 15th-seeded opponent, Albany.

Lehigh's 75-70 win last season was the sixth time a No. 2 seed went down to a 15.

"If we keep looking back at our experiences, then we would really get overconfident because we've won four national championships and been to 11 Final Fours," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "There's no need to go back to good or bad experiences because not all these guys were involved in that.

"The best thing to do is to be involved in this experience, and we're not reminding the seniors that they've won a national championship when they were freshmen. We're not talking about what we did last year because it's a totally different team. My feeling is stay in this moment. Whatever happened in the past, good or bad, has happened in the past."

There's been a lot more NCAA past for Duke than Albany (24-10), the America East Conference champions. Duke is 96-32 as it enters its 36th NCAA tournament and the Blue Devils have been either a No. 1 or 2 seed the last six years in a row, nine of the last 10 and 15 of the past 17.

UCLA, Minnesota coaches on hot seat

AUSTIN, Texas - When Minnesota and UCLA meet today in the NCAA tournament, the winning coach just might put the loser out of his job.

Call it a Texas showdown that could be the ultimate one-and-done.

UCLA's Ben Howland and Minnesota's Tubby Smith are facing intense speculation back home, and some nationally, that anything but a deep postseason run could cost them their jobs. Beating the other guy could help cool down their courtside seats a bit.

It might seem odd that two coaches with long resumes of success would arrive at this point, particularly considering what their teams have accomplished this season.

The Bruins (25-9) won the Pac-12 regular-season title to earn the No. 6 seed in the South Regional. The Gophers (20-12) are the No. 11 seed after earning just the 12th NCAA tournament berth in school history.

Howland, who coached the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, didn't want to talk about the speculation swirling about his future at a program he's led for 10 years.

Howland's problem is that UCLA, one of the blue blood programs in college basketball, has been in a long drought of postseason success. The Bruins missed the tournament in 2010 and 2012 and haven't made it past the first weekend since their last Final Four appearance in 2008.

UCLA sustained a big blow to its NCAA tournament chances last week when guard Jordan Adams, who averaged 15.3 points this season, broke his right ankle in the Pac-12 tournament.

Howland called Adams his team's best all-around player.