After long layoffs sandwiched around the Kentucky game in part because of finals, Indiana (7-2) now prepares for four games in the next seven days – including two in Las Vegas – and six games in the last two weeks of 2010.
SIU-Edwardsville, (2-9) a transitional Division I team, will lead off the game-heavy stretch, similar to the one that began Indiana’s season.
“I think we’ve already been through it a couple of times, which helps, which is one of the reasons we did it that way,” coach Tom Crean told the media Thursday, speaking about the early-season scheduling. He said his team’s mentality and practice production in the last week following the Kentucky loss was a positive.
SIU-Edwardsville (Friday) and South Carolina State (Sunday) will serve as warm-ups for a two-game run in Vegas right before Christmas. Then it will be home – Crean said his team will be together for the holiday – because Penn State comes to Bloomington on Dec. 27 to kick off the Big Ten season (check for something else on that below).
As for SIUE (Can I just call it that and no one hate me?), Crean expects to defend an offense that encourages a lot of movement, and one with plenty of scoring options. He compared them to Evansville in some of the things the Cougars will try to offensively, saying his team would need to focus on getting out on shooters.
“They have guys that can really shoot the ball,” Crean said. “You really have to guard everybody from 3-point range.”
But Crean and his players also talked at length about their own gameplan and improvement, which Derek Elston said started with being a more physical rebounding team inside. He said he and the other posts have worked most of the week on being tougher on the defensive glass, which in turn would feed another area of needed improvement, getting out on the break.
“Us bigs, we just have to get a little stronger, and that’s what we did all this week,” Elston said. “We feel real good about tomorrow.”
Jones still “day-to-day”
Crean didn’t have much to report on the status of Verdell Jones, who struggled through the Kentucky game with an ankle injury that eventually forced him to sit. Jones’ participation throughout the week, Crean said, was mostly predicated on the advice of trainer Tim Garl.
“It’s relatively day to day, it really is. We just every day we just stay right with what Tim Garl thinks, and we just leave it at that. And we plan accordingly,” Crean said. “There’s a difference in his health, I don’t mean it like that. But as far as what his status is, I would say that’s day-to-day.”
On Butler and the Big Ten schedule:
Quizzed about tournament plans next year, Crean revealed that Indiana plans to play Butler in an exempt tournament in Bloomington. Each team will play three games at their respective home gyms as part of the arrangement, and then IU will host Butler in a fourth game.
The tournament does not have any bearing on the Crossroads Classic, which will pit Indiana against Notre Dame and Purdue against Butler at Conseco in 2011. Crean also said that IU is examining its 2012 options as well, and that the Hoosiers will “probably do something national,” though he’s unsure whether it would include home games, like Las Vegas this year, or if it would be all on-site, like Puerto Rico in 2009.
Crean also threw out an idea that’s practiced in some mid- and low-major conferences, which sounded somewhat intriguing: Play your first two conference games before the end of the fall semester. As it stands, Indiana’s first two Big Ten games at Assembly Hall are on Dec. 27 and Dec. 31, while the vast majority of the student body is away from Bloomington.
“I would think playing in December when you’re students are on campus would be a great way to start it. But that’s just personal opinion,” Crean said. “I always thought Christmas-time should be used to give your kids a chance to go home.”
“I think when you walk out of a game at Kentucky, and you know you could have played a lot better, you could always look at it and say, ‘Well, if we had this, or if we had that,’ anybody can do that. But if you look at it and you say ‘Well we could do this better or we could do that better, we can win games like that’ – that’s a good feeling.” –Tom Crean, talking about his team’s reaction to Indiana’s 81-62 loss to Kentucky last weekend