He has a lot of company there.
The Hoosiers are everybody’s top-5 team for this season, with many putting them at No. 1. Sophomore forward Cody Zeller is considered an All-America for sure, and a strong contender for national player of the year. Few expect him to stay for a third year, but stranger things have happened.
“Cody was the most fundamentally sound player I’ve ever seen at 18,” Crean said. “He was so well coached. He came in with strong fundamentals. What he’s good at, he’ll stick with. He has to lead the way with stretching those fundamentals.
“We have to get to the point that no matter what anybody does at Purdue, at Notre Dame, that he can go above and beyond. We’ve had him doing as much ball screens and pick and rolls as Jordan. We’ve got to get him to the point where he can get to the rim in three dribbles.
"If you’re best players are getting better, everybody else is falling in line.”
Yogi Ferrell projects to being one of the nation’s top freshmen. He’s an instant impact guy whose only glitch is learning to play great defense all the time against great players. That’s true of every freshman. He’s improving, so if his defense matches his offensive skills, look out.
In other words, there’s plenty for Crean to talk about as we approach the Oct. 12 start of practice, and then the Oct. 20 Hoosier Hysteria event.
Here are more of Crean’s thoughts gleaned during a recent public talk with students at the IU Auditorium.
In order for Indiana to play to the hype, it has to defend far better than it did last year. Opponents shot better than 42 percent against the Hoosiers last season. That needs to get below 40 percent.
“I lay awake at night thinking about the defense,” Crean said. “We’ve got to get that field goal percentage defense down. Great teams do that. Top teams defend at a high level.
“We made so many jumps offensively last year. We cut down our fouling. We had to be a great three-point shooting team and get to the foul line. We did that. We don’t want to lose that, but we have to make the same jumps defensively. We need to create more turnovers.”
As far as the offense, Crean said he wants to make it so “you’ll need a neck brace to watch us if we play as fast as we want to play.”
“We’ll play faster on offense. We have to. We have to rebound better, defensive rebound better, create more turnovers, get on the fast break better. We have to get to the point where we have eight or nine starters.
“We’ll probably start a freshman. The battles are on now. I don’t know if all the players know it. A good portion do. You’ve got to bring it every day. If you can’t carry your weight, if you can’t play at a fast pace, it will be hard to get you in there.”
Crean talked about four things last year that turned Indiana into a 27-win, Sweet 16 team: forward Christian Watford’s ability to guard a point guard; guard Victor Oladipo becoming unguardable in the pick and roll; freshman guard Remy Abell, who barely played the first half of the season, improving so that he was “ready when called upon” the last month of the season; Zeller’s continued improvement.
“He never leveled off,’ Crean said.
Oladipo and fellow junior Will Sheehey have developed into big-time players with NBA potential. That’s impressive considering they weren’t considered elite prospects coming out of high school.
“When Victor gets his outside shooting to match everything else, he’s looking at a NBA level,” Crean said. “The same with Will. They were ranked in the 130s to 140s. People were looking at us like we had three heads when we signed them. They improved and came in with the right attitude.”
Abell continues to develop. Look for him to be a major contributor this season.
“He had a great spring and summer,” Crean said. “It will be hard not to have him on the floor.”
Watford has battled some minor injuries, but should be good to go for practice.
“The next step for him is improving his rebounding and defense if he wants to play where he wants to play,” Crean said.
In other words, the NBA.
Senior guard Jordan Hulls has improved his mid-range shooting. He’s already one of the nation’s top free throw shooters and three-point shooters.
“Jordan is getting better at creating and the pick and roll,” Crean said. “It’s hard to find somebody to match up to him shooting that 3.”
Crean said forward Derek Elston has lost weight which has improved his quickness and fitness.
“He needs to make open shots, talk more on defense and be able to rebound,” Crean said.
Sophomore guard Austin Etherington barely played last season. Look for a bigger impact this season as he takes over Matt Roth’s sharpshooting role.
“Austin has to believe in himself the way I believe in him,” Crean said. “He can be a guy who can help us, especially with his ability to shoot. He’s got to look at it like, I’ve got to be so good at shooting, (Crean) has to play me. He has a lot of talent.”
Ferrell figures to make the most immediate impact as a freshman, but Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Perea (now healthy after a foot injury left him in a boot for part of the summer) and Peter Jurkin also figure to make big contributions.
“They have the work ethic, the talent, they’ve won and they are like sponges when it comes to picking things up,” Crean said. “If that continues, we’re going to get a lot of things done.”