SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Robert Vaden remains "day-to-day," but there aren't too many days left.
The 6-5, 224-pound forward's availability remains questionable as Indiana prepares for its first-round match-up with San Diego State (24-8) Thursday night. Vaden, who injured his left ankle on Saturday against Ohio State, participated in the first 15 minutes of the Hoosiers' public practice at the Huntsman Center Wednesday. He went through some shooting drills with his teammates, but once the team's practice turned a little more up-tempo, Vaden returned to the sidelines.
He remains hopeful, though, that he'll be cleared to play by IU's medical staff.
"I want to play," Vaden said. "This is my first (NCAA) tournament, so I'm trying to do everything I can to get out there."
That's included icing the ankle three or four times per day while also spending a good chunk of time with IU trainer Tim Garl. In an effort to get himself ready for the game, he's been keeping himself busy watching film of San Diego State and to looking over the staff's scouting report.
"When you sit out you see a lot of things you don't when you're playing," Vaden said. "You have a lot more time to think about the player you're guarding and to watch film of the player you're guarding."
If Vaden isn't able to go, his role will fall to sixth-man Rod Wilmont, who said he's been preparing for the possibility that he could have to step in and start on the frontline.
"I've been running Robert's position the last couple of days in case he can't play," Wilmont said. "I'm trying to do some of the things he does, get the ball to Marco and cut, and if my guy is off me shoot it or drive it.
"I think we'll be fine, but hopefully he does play tomorrow. It would be big."
While the IU coaching staff has a slew of things to worry about as it prepares for San Diego State, they've come up with a top priority for Thursday.
"I think the key thing for this game is boxing out," Wilmont said. "They go to the glass hard. They play kind of like Michigan State, they go every single time."
The Aztecs out-rebounded their foes by nearly four rebounds per game, and were especially good on the offensive glass. Led by Mountain West Conference rebound leader Marcus Slaughter, San Diego State averaged 13 offensive rebounds per game, and had four players pull down at least 38 offensive rebounds this season. Indiana, by contrast, had only one player with that many offensive rebounds (Marco Killingsworth, 74).
"They crash the boards hard each and every time," said A.J. Ratliff. "We've worked a lot on that rebounding and blocking out to get ready for this game."
Making IU's challenge even more formidable is San Diego State's size advantage. It will likely start a traditional starting five that features three frontline players in the 6-9, 220-pound Slaughter, 6-10, 216-pound Mohamed Abukar and 6-5, 218-pound Kyle Spain.
RUPP THINKING WEBER STATE?
Like the rest of the IU coaching staff, Associate Head Coach Kerry Rupp will be looking for another job as soon as IU's NCAA run comes to a close. But the former Utah assistant and interim head coach already has some interest in a job that's come open – Weber State.
The Ogden, Utah, school fired Joe Cravens late last month after the Big Sky Conference school completed a 10-17 season. Cravens led Weber State to a conference championship and NCAA berth in 2003, but the team has fallen on hard times in recent years. Cravens was 116-88 in seven years at the school.
A lifelong Utah resident before coming to IU last year, Rupp would love the chance to take over the Weber State program.
"I think it has great basketball tradition," Rupp said. "They've had great wins, great facilities. It would be an honor to be a coach there…They need to go through the process, really find a good fit for that program. It's a very good program. I'm sure they have some outstanding candidates, and they need to go through the process to find a great fit."
While Rupp is interested, he also knows his attention right now needs to be with the Hoosiers and their quest to win two basketball games this weekend and get to the Sweet 16.
"My main focus right now is to make sure we finish strong," Rupp said. "My loyalties, my attention to detail, my focus is here (with Indiana)."
WHO DRAWS HEATH?
Indiana will have to find a way to control Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Brandon Heath Thursday, an explosive player who is a gifted 3-point shooter who can also put the ball on the floor and attack in transition.
Rod Wilmont, who will likely be matched up with Heath on occasion, compares him to one of the Big Ten's best players.
"I think he's similar to (Daniel) Horton from Michigan, kind of plays like him," Wilmont said. "He's going to take a lot of tough shots. We have to be there to contest, don't give him any open looks. He's a scorer, he's a big time player in his conference, and we have to try to contain him."
Horton had a huge game against IU in the two teams' regular season finale, scoring 34 in IU's 69-67 win in Ann Arbor. Indiana wants to do what it can to keep Heath from having that sort of performance, and it will throw a variety of looks – and players – at him.
"It helps tremendously to be able to rotate guys," said Ratliff. "Going deep onto the bench, even Errek Suhr can harass him a little bit."
FISHER ON IU EXPECTATIONS
Steve Fisher might be the coach at San Diego State now, but his time at Michigan gave him a first-hand look at the IU program and the expectations Hoosier fans have for the program. Those expectations haven't been fulfilled during the last two seasons, a fact that undoubtedly contributed to Mike Davis' decision to step down at season's end.
The bar at Indiana has always been high, and that hasn't wavered despite the fact IU hasn't won a national title since 1987. Fisher won a national crown in 1989 while serving as Michigan's interim coach, something that helped earn him the full-time job that following off-season.
"Expectations, it doesn't matter where you are, they are there," Fisher said. "If you're somewhere like Indiana and Kentucky, they expect a Final Four run just about every year, and if you don't it's the coach."
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