Friday, January 14, 2011

Say What? A Quiet Crean, Determined Hoosiers Brace For Michigan

Tom Crean kept it terse. Indiana basketball practice was over, game film was about to be watched and the Hoosier coach didn’t have much to say about his team.

Michigan was different. He talked about Michigan, tonight’s opponent at Assembly Hall.

“One thing they’ve become right now is the best transition basketball team in the Big Ten,” he said. “I haven’t seen anybody who runs like they run. They throw it ahead. They’re a gang-rebounding team, which we’re working harder to become. They get out and play fast on the break. They’ll get some 3s in transition. They move the ball well.”

But when it came to the state of the Hoosiers, Crean was uncharacteristically quiet. This is a coach, after all, who normally talks at a machine-gun pace with plenty of insight and deep thought.

“We’ve had a good week,” he said.

A six-game losing streak and an 0-4 Big Ten start can do that to the most talkative of coaches.

And then, when addressing to the keys to beating Michigan:

“We need to play well. Certainly it begins with transition defense. That and the keys you’d have in any game.”

Okay, it’s not the quotes to base a Pulitzer-winning story (hey, we still have the dream), but that isn’t Crean’s concern. He’s trying to figure out a way to get the fading Hoosiers to play winning basketball. He knows the formula: good ball movement, sharp cuts and passes, defensive communication, win the 50-50 balls, play with passion and urgency and attention to detail.

It’s getting the players to do it for 40 minutes that has become the challenge.

Crean had earlier talked about looking forward to the week of practice to fix the problems that keep popping up like the chicken pox.

So how did the week go?

“We worked to get better,” he said. “We tried to examine everything we thought we could get better at. We put some keys out there to what we think it should be. That’s what we spent time on.”

At least IU gets to play at home with the students back from semester break. That means a livelier, rowdier crowd certain to say things that will push the bounds of sportsmanship.

“We’ll have a great crowd,” Crean said. “That will help. The students being back … that’s excellent. There should be a lot of energy in the building.”

Michigan is 11-6, but has lost four of its last five games. Normally that would mean the team is struggling. But look at who the Wolverines have played. They’ve lost to No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Kansas and No. 8 Purdue. They’ve also lost at Wisconsin, which almost never loses a road game now that Bo Ryan is the coach.

They lost to Kansas in overtime. They lost to Ohio State by four points.

“I think they’ve been playing pretty well for a period of time,” Crean said. “They’re like anybody else. They go through runs and lulls. It’s all how they respond to them. They are a very solid team. There’s no doubt about that.”

Oh, Michigan also shoots more three-pointers (an average of 24 a game) than any Big Ten team. This is a potential problem given IU allows opponents to shoot 51.4 percent from three-point range in conference play.

Running the Wolverine show is sophomore guard Darius Morris. He averages 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

“He’s doing a good job of finding cutters and rollers, post-ups and shooters,” Crean said. “They mix defenses pretty well.”

With a 9-8 record, IU has zero margin for error if it is to have any shot at the postseason. Yes, we know that’s unlikely given it has to win seven more games this season to be eligibile (unless it wins the Big Ten tourney title and the automatic NCAA Tourney bid). Heck, the Hoosiers will be favored -- maybe -- to win one more game this season, when they host Iowa.

But that’s a debate for another day.


IU basketball could help new football coach Kevin Wilson with recruiting. Eleven recruits are set to be on campus this weekend and will almost certainly show up at the IU-Michigan game. They include quarterback Tre Roberson from Indianapolis (the 2010 Mr. Football award winner), wide receivers Cody Latimer and Jay McCants, defensive end Jake Reed (he’s from Columbus, Indiana), linebacker Zach Shaw and athlete Raymon Taylor.

Shaw and Taylor are four-star (out of five-star) prospects. Taylor is considered a soft recruit. When former coach Bill Lynch was fired, he opened up his recruiting. Michigan has made a big push. He’s also looking at Illinois and Iowa.

Who knows? Maybe if the Hoosiers win tonight, Taylor will pick the Hoosiers.

Anyway, Wilson is expected to talk to the Assembly Hall crowd tonight.

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