So there we were, sitting in Assembly Hall watching Indiana’s basketball team prepare for a potential national championship, and here’s one thing we know:
It’s gotta be defense.
That is the No. 1 priority for this team if it’s to achieve it’s goals. Just behind is rebounding.
You’d better believe the Hoosiers hit both hard.
They ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (66.4 points allowed) and were 141st in the NCAA in field goal percentage defense (42.6 percent).
That was enough to get them to the Sweet 16, but no further. Not even with the Big Ten's best offense.
It has to change and everybody knows it. Is there a dramatic change that needs to occur to spur that improvement? Here’s what the guy who should know, coach Tom Crean, had to say:
"I think it's everything (has to improve). I think we're already better because there's more length and more athleticism. Over the last four days just looking at how hard it is for people to score at the basket is a big thing. I think we can put a lot of pressure on the ball. The biggest thing for me is going to be like it was last year: can our transition defense keep taking steps? Can our shot clock defense keep taking steps? Because in-between, I think we're going to be able to create a little havoc. But it's when the breakdowns come.
"Today we threw things out there at them that we had not even really taught. We hadn't spent any time on full-court pressure since the summer, and we hadn't spent any time on our switching game until the season, since maybe the VCU game (IU’s cliffhanger NCAA tourney second-round victory). To me, that's where we "try to create a little chaos" here and there and see how they react to that, and then going back and studying it on film. That's what's good about this time of year."
The four freshmen -- Yogi Ferrell, Hanner Perea, Jeremy Hollowell and Peter Jurkin -- all had their moments. Jurkin has a broken nose and has to wear a plastic mask.
Is there anything Crean worries about to get them up to speed?
"No, I don't worry about any of that. We've got a deep team, and all four new guys can play. They're going through the trials and tribulations of day-after-day having to bring it. They have to bring that intensity level, bring that mental toughness. All four can play, and I think our coaching staff does a really good job of understanding that and reminding them of that. I think our players really get that. There's a mutual respect amongst this team, and it was there last year for the most part, but it's really there right now. You saw just how excited they were with Peter (Jurkin) doing something at the end of practice, and they really care about these guys, so I'm not worried about that. What they have to understand is that bringing it day after day is what's going to give them the opportunity for the minutes, and I think they're seeing that."
The practice was crisp and intense, indicative of the attitude and approach Crean has emphasized if the team is to achieve its goals.
"The work ethic has been tremendous, no question about it,” he said. “Focus is really good. I have not even really tried to bring a lot of chaos to the practice, in terms of situations and things of that nature yet; that will come. It's just a matter of doing it at a high level day after day if they really want to be good. That's what we've got to see. But there's no question four days in and through this whole pre-season that their focus level and their work ethic has been really good."