Image courtesy of BeyondTheBets
Though basketball season is still a couple of months away, Hoosier hysteria – the unofficial variety – struck Bloomington on Thursday night, as Tom Crean delivered an address lasting nearly two hours to a sizable crowd at the IU Auditorium. He touched on the role that family plays in his life, the value of an Indiana University education, and the academic progress that the IU basketball program has made since he took the reigns in the wake of the ruin that began with Kelvin Sampson. He spoke, at times, with a captivating intensity – standing behind the podium in the middle of the stage, but repeatedly giving the impression of being on the verge of bursting through to the eager students who turned up to hear him speak.
Crean’s passion was matched only by his transparency. Zach Osterman of Inside Indiana correctly remarked during the address that Crean might have been more forthcoming during portions of his Thursday address than he was with the team’s beat reporters through most of last season. In addition to disclosing bits and pieces of a modest upbringing and a community college education (according to Crean, he was more enamored with ‘Miami Vice’ and ‘Dallas’ as a youth than he was with the value of education), he pulled back the curtain on how the 2011-2012 season unfolded, pointed to different turning points of the season and highlighted some things to watch for in the upcoming season.
Last year’s turning point:
Though Crean pointed to a number of incidences and foundation marks for the success than IU fans saw during the 2011-2012 season, he referenced one game above all others as the turning point in the year – and it may not be the one that many may be thinking of. Rather than Kentucky, Ohio State or Michigan State, IU’s coach talked at length about Evansville as the game where he finally saw something from his team that gave the indication that it could be something great.
“There was nobody more uptight than the head coach,” Crean said of his makeup going into the contest with the Purple Aces. “Here we are opening up their new building, Marty Simmons is a big time coach… and our guys put up 51 points in the first half.”
When discussing the game, Crean admitted that he didn’t coach the second half of that game with his foot on the proverbial gas pedal.
“I learned a valuable lesson,” he acknowledged. “Because I didn’t coach with my foot on the gas pedal in the second half because I just wanted to get out of there alive. I put the brakes on the team… and I told them it was my fault that we didn’t win by more than we did. We didn’t make that mistake again.”
Crean pointed to that game as the one where he confirmed that his team could play away from Assembly Hall, and while the Hoosiers didn’t win every game from that point forward, they played as a different team than the one that fans – and Crean himself – had grown accustomed to seeing struggle once they left the Assembly Hall hardwood.
Most Improved Players
One of the more compelling developments of the evening came when Crean revealed the two players who he believes to have made the greatest strides from the end of last season to this point in the offseason. Some might have expected names like Remy Abell or Victor Oladipo to pop up, but his revelation did more to brighten the tone of an already positive night than anything else he said.
“Right now, Cody (Zeller) and Will (Sheehey) are neck-and-neck in my mind for the most improved player on the team,” Crean said. “And that doesn’t take anything away from the other guys… I’m saying that those two have made the biggest jumps from the end of the year to today.”
Will Sheehey’s conditioning strides were discussed as Crean went in detail about a complicated VO2 conditioning test that each player took repeatedly in the offseason to track their development. He revealed that Jordan Hulls had lasted 12 minutes and 56 seconds on the treadmill at his maximum capacity to set the modern school record and that Jim Thomas – a Hoosier from 1979-1983 – held the all-time record, lasting 13 minutes. As Crean said, “Then Will Sheehey came in.”
“Will went 14:06, jumped off the treadmill – didn’t fall off the treadmill,” Crean was quick to note. “Jumped off the treadmill… and there were a couple of guys convinced he could have gone another 30 seconds or a minute.”
As complimentary as Crean was of Sheehey, he had equally positive things to say about Zeller’s development.
“We had to get to the point this offseason,” Crean said. “That no matter what you do in your office at Purdue, North Carolina or Butler… that (Cody) can go above and beyond that; that there’s no real plan because he’s so good in his fundamentals that he takes his game to another level, and that’s what’s happened.”
A First Team All-American big man, who may double as the most improved player on one of the best teams in the country? The conference may want to take notice.
Despite the offensive improvements Indiana made last season and the individual gains highlighted earlier in the evening, Crean made clear that his first priority in the offseason was to gain major ground on the defensive end of the floor. Despite substantial gains in offensive efficiency last season – they jumped to 4th nationally according to KenPom.com, a 60-spot jump – he reiterated the importance of defensive presence, saying he wanted to see the same type of defensive jump that IU made last year on offense.
“We’ve really to get better defensively… I don’t need the clapping, I watched the films,” he said with a wry smile, as his proclamation was met with a smattering of applause. “We’ve got to get the field goal percentage defense down, because the great ones do. You look at teams at the top last year… they defend at a really high level.”
“I saw something great today, and I couldn’t have said it any better,” he continued. “Bill Belichick said that, the second most important statistic to him – outside of points scored – is turnovers, and that’s exactly what it is. When you have a team of athletes – guys you think can create havoc – you’ve got to create some turnovers.”
Sticking to KenPom’s numbers, IU ranked 64th in defensively in 2011-2012 – which was coincidentally the 2010-2011 team’s offensive rank before last season’s prodigious jump. It’s certainly like a lot to ask, but it sounds as though the goal for this year’s team is for the defense to make a similar leap to last year’s offense. If the 2012-2013 Hoosiers were to manage that and maintain last year’s offensive excellence, one would be hard-pressed to find a better team anywhere in the country.
Hurryin’ Hoosiers Eye a Return
More tenured fans in attendance on Thursday may have had their ears perk up upon hearing IU’s coach express his desire to return to the days of the ‘Hurryin’ Hoosiers’. Last year’s pace may have ranked in the upper echelon of the B1G, but that didn’t sound like it was quite good enough for Crean, who emphasized the role that up-tempo basketball would play with this year’s team.
“We averaged 53.5 shots per game last year,” he said. “There have been champions in the mid-60s, high-60s… but I told our guys if we look at it like there’s only 10 shots available to this team (left from the seniors who left from last year’s team), nobody’s going to be happy. Everybody wants to score more, plus these freshmen? No, no; we’ve got to get those numbers up, we’re going to play faster on offense.”
“We’re going to defensive rebound better,” said Crean, as the tempo of his voice quickened. “We’re going to create more turnovers; we’re going to put more pressure on the ball and get out on the break that much faster and that means we have to be in that much better shape and that much stronger to get this done.”
He made clear that the tempo that Indiana will look to run will be unattainable without the requisite depth, and revealed that he’s expecting to have “eight or nine guys who are capable of starting.”
Who could those starters potentially be? Crean ignited some speculation when he said fans “could probably write in fountain pen” that a freshman could crack the starting lineup at the beginning of the year – the most likely candidate for that spot being freshman point guard, Yogi Ferrell. Remy Abell, a pleasant surprise last season, and Victor Oladipo will also see time as the Hoosiers’ primary ball handler, as well as at shooting guard. Jordan Hulls, in the meantime, will see plenty of time as a spot-up shooter off the ball and – according to Crean – may see more opportunities as a three-point shooter than he has in any previous season.
Will Sheehey, Christian Watford and Derek Elston will all certainly see time at forward at different points in the year, and depending on how quickly he develops, Jeremy Hollowell may see ample court time as well. Throw Cody Zeller into the mix, and the IU boasts nine high-level, two-way players who are capable of pushing the offensive tempo.
Hurryin’ Hoosiers, indeed.