Communication key against Michigan’s transition offense

BLOOMINGTON — Transition defense was the hot topic Friday afternoon during media availability at Assembly Hall. Tom Crean called Michigan “the best transition basketball team in the Big Ten,” and Jeremiah Rivers said he and his teammates have spent a large portion of the week working to improve in defending against points on the break.

Defending in transition has been a problem for Indiana this season, in large part due to Indiana’s struggles with talking and on-court communication. That, in turn, has created problems when shooters come free on the break and aren’t picked up, John Shurna’s ability to shake loose for open shots Sunday in the Hoosiers’ 93-81 loss at Northwestern being a recent example.

Rivers was particularly adamant about the importance of communication against a team that has shot more 3-pointers than any other in the Big Ten:

“Being quiet out there doesn’t help at all. I think being quiet out there gives us inconsistency because you don’t know if your man has your back, you don’t know, if you get beat off the dribble – which will happen in games – if the next player’s gonna step out and help you. So I think all week, that’s all we’ve been doing, or one of the main things we’ve been doing on defense is helping each other on defense. So I think it’s been real good.”

Michigan will provide an excellent case study into how productive Indiana’s week has been. The Wolverines are trigger happy, as are most John Beilein-coached teams, but they’ve got several pieces that cause problems, foremost among them Darius Morris.

The sophomore is enjoying a breakout season, averaging 15.4 points, 7.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. He has been the conduit through which much of the Wolverines’ offense has run, both in scoring and in creating for others.

“Well he’s the new Manny Harris in the sense that he attacks, creates for others, he can get to the rim really well and the ball is gonna be in his hands when it’s winning time,” Crean said. “He does a good job of finding shooters if they’re open, like Zach Novak, Stu Douglass, Tim Hardaway Jr., and he’s playing like a floor leader for them.”

The others for which Morris likes to create include sharpshooters Zach Novak and Stu Douglass, who both shoot north of 38 percent from 3-point range and average 9.2 and 7.4 points per game, respectively. Novak in particular was a player Rivers termed the Wolverines’ “x-factor” in terms of scoring, and keeping both him and Morris from finding an early rhythm could go a long way for Indiana.

“I think if we take him out of the game,” Rivers said, “I think they’ll struggle a little bit more as far as getting their offense going, because I think Morris likes to create for him and for others, so if they get him going, then they can get others going, so I think initially we kind of contain those two we’ll be OK.”

Crean Audio

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Rivers Audio

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Crean Video

(Photo credit: James Brosher)

  • Anonymous

    I think Crean has done a good job identifying the major issues from game to game, but our guys are struggling to put everything together. This sounds really, really promising, and if these guys can grow in the communication area they can share knowledge and help keep each other in the right spots on the defensive side.

    I like that Rivers is the one making a statement here, because he needs to step up and be this team’s defensive leader.

    Hopefully we see something good on Saturday, and a growing sense of confidence in positioning on that side of the ball as the season goes on.

  • http://www.insidethehall.com/ Alex Bozich

    Solid work, Zach.

    One thing I’d like to point out just because it seems as if it was a point that was discussed in today’s availability: Michigan is actually one of the slowest teams in terms of pace in the country. (323rd) And they’re second to last in the Big Ten in possessions per game. Both of those numbers suggest that the Wolverines aren’t much of a transition team at all.

  • http://www.trinityoaklabs.com Hoosiergirl

    Just a thought here, and I could be all wet; But, is there a possibility that Crean emphasized Michigans sppposed transition game so much, because that is what he wants to bring out to his players as the most important “goal?” that we do a good job in keeping them from getting any kind of transition going, and bring out ours instead?
    Just some thoughts……….late night

  • JerryCT

    I too am a bit puzzled by the transition angle . But anything that gets our defense in gear is welcomed

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Yeah, I’m confused. I’ve watched Michigan a few times and I watched the OSU game and the Kansas game and they really don’t try to get out in transition at all. They will hit an open shooter early in their set if Novak or Hardaway is open but that’s about it. Why are we discussing transition defense? Is it because it’s something CTC actually thinks the team will do well since UM isn’t a transition team? Or is his idea of transition just WAY different from everyone else’s.

    I’m starting to get really worried that sometimes the things IU’s coaches discuss seem to make no sense and they seem to work like a bunch of politicians?

    1) After something goes wrong we get the typical politician “cover up”. A lot of “we’re heading in the right direction” talk and “I liked our mindset in the second half”.
    2) Now the coaches are actually setting the team up for success ahead of time by saying “transition defense” will be key against one of the slowest pace teams in the country! That’s like saying, “We really feel like retail sales will boost the economy this Holiday season”. Well, DUH!

    I still love CTC for his recruiting but I’m starting to think that he thinks that we are all idiots and can’t watch games and follow up on opponents stats and strengths?

  • JerryCT

    UM uses both ball screens and off ball screens to liberate 2 cutters who rub off the high post and cut through the lane. I use the term cutters because they cut more than they drive it.

    While we might be able to thwart this first set of predictable cuts it is the secondary curls off of this and the next cutting attempts off the weak side that scare me. We have just not seen any attentiveness or attitude to defending our own assignments. We tend to look around and “overhelp” which will give them the daylight they need.

    In their scheme they are not under the illusion they will get to the rim but rather use the cuts to get open looks for shooters …………. and we are good at giving shooters open looks.

    Instead of transition I am worried about :

    1) the open 3
    2) the shot fake by the shooter and drive
    3) the clean up garbage around the basket

    We badly need this win

  • JerryCT

    Remember Yul Brynner in the King & I……” tis a puzzlement ” ?

    The only thing I can think of is that the secondary offense off of the initial break is often also considered “transition” offense. They get into this quickly and are unafraid to shoot it. Perhaps this is what coach means ……….. and it makes sense.

    In this sense we cannot lose our man or dog it getting back on them after a possession change. We have all seen the DE, CW, VJ, VO get lost getting back and today each of these guys will have to deal with highly active players.

    What bothers me is that we label our problem “communication” which to me means that a player will tell another guy to take his man ………. a poor substitute for effort.

    It appears to me that the first problem is personal responsibility to defend your own assignment and the effort and attentiveness at all times to beat your man on defense.

  • Marsh21

    CTC twitter quote “There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” MLK Jr.

    There is no question he believes most of us our idiots. He forgets what state he’s in now. He does a poor job of handling the press and he’s a little sharp with his tone at times. But he’s our coach and I want him to succeed.

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    From what I’ve seen they run a ton of curl screens down low and down screens then send the shooter to the corner. I watched them run shooters to the corner against OSU and Kansas over and over and over and it’s usually Novak or Hardaway Jr. They do run a ton of ball screens and cuts to free up their shooters. Their game is actually pretty fun to watch.

    I honestly think the best option against Michigan is probably to go back to a tight M2M and tell our guys the only switch is if you get picked off under the basket and Novak or another shooter is running for the corner then someone has to pop out on him even if it is a big! Unfortunately if we are playing Jones/Hulls/Creek then that leaves one of them alone against the post man and UM will just toss it in for an easy bucket or foul. But, if we are playing VO/JR/Will then that isn’t such a big problem.

    This is my “expert” analysis. HA!

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    I really do want him to succeed as well. The honest truth is I like the guy. I like that he seems to be a family man (tight with his own family and his extended family) and brings those values to the program. I like his energy and his recruiting prowess. I love the fact that he’s put several high quality, high character players in the NBA who seem to do things the right way.

    I am rooting for him, but I wish he were treating this situation like we weren’t dummies. After all, this is Indiana which says something about the fans as well.

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    It almost feels like he’s being a bit sarcastic during this interview and in his “best transition team in the Big Ten” comment. He really sort of seems to have a “to hell with it” type attitude which might be a message to his players. I can see him being the type of coach to motivate them by acting like he doesn’t care anymore or has moved on to the future. I’m not saying that’s the case but it’s possible. He just sort of had a different air about him during that interview.

    You know what I would love to see against a team with limited experienced post players? I would love to freaking see Tom Pritchard receive a few passes on the roll to the basket and see if he can get someone in foul trouble or make a move. I refuse to believe that a guy who showed post moves two years ago has completely forgotten how to use a drop step or pivot to create an open baby hook or reverse layup. I am now in total belief that the reason our post players don’t score at least a little bit is because we don’t throw them the ball or focus on them at all.

    It seems to me that if we completely eliminate the threat of a post game it makes us very, very one dimensional and easy to defend. I would love to see the post players (even if they only combine for 30 minutes because they all foul out) produce a little bit this game and our guards give them a chance!

  • JerryCT

    Your expert opinion is appreciated by me at least …………. and that is worth ………… well, a beer or 2 if we ever meet.

  • JerryCT

    Then call me an idiot because it is possible that simplifying the defensive scheme may be exactly what we need ie “walk first , then run” concept despite it being half baked and easy sounding.

    CTC himself has mentioned the “over help” problem. So what is his answer to our defense ?

    I would personally like to see more twitters from him explaining his game analysis and ideas eg. how to change the over help.

    I think he is good at this if he would try it.

  • Diesel

    I like your currency Jerry. Need your driveway shoveled?

  • Diesel

    I don’t know Marsh, you could easily replace CTC with RMK and we’d all be OK with it (thinks most of us are idiots, poor with the press, sharp with his tone)

    Frankly, why the heck should CTC care what we think? And yet I believe he does care to some degree. Ever met him in public? I believe he does know what state he is in – check out our next 4 recruiting classes. Perhaps you are reading more into the twitter than you need to. When he quotes Joyce Meyer, he’s not calling us all sinners either.

  • Diesel

    I think he is just saying we have to find their three-point shooters in early transition as opposed to jogging back half-heartedly with our head down, and then staying on them.

  • Diesel

    A couple of interesting notes I picked up from the Star the past couple of days:

    1) Eli Holman was suspended for the Butler game from fighting in the previous game

    2) AE is listed as tied for 4th leading rebounder in the state at 98 total rebounds, statistics by varvee.com. Now I do question where the heck CZ is at because I’m sure he has done that in like 6 games, but just saying pretty nice to see that

  • Luke72

    There are times in which somebody needs to let Watford know what position he plays. Way too many three point attempts for our inside guys, This game will be decieded on the boards. Early in the season Coach Crean was talking about getting rebounding out of the guards, this would be a great game to see the implimented. Seems to me that Michigan has hung in with some really good teams
    due to having a pretty high BB IQ. Would love to see the Hoosiers show theirs!

  • Anonymous

    I think you’re correct, Jerry, in thinking he’s focused on the secondary offense as part of the transition.

    Haven’t seen Michigan play since the Clemson game, but the numbers make it seem like they’re extraordinarily dependent on Morris creating offense. I’d bet that Crean is focused on stopping easy baskets before our defense get set, and hope that they stagnant in a traditional half-court setting.

    I don’t think that Novak, Douglass, and Smotrycz will create many, if any, shots. All three have pretty low “usage” rate on Kenpom. Novak is even falls in the “limited role” category. Seems like they need Morris to set the up. Hardaway, however, is another story…

  • Anonymous

    Couldn’t agree more.

    I really like what I have been hearing from JR as of late he seems to get maybe more than any other player so far this year.Besides him having earned it, I think we have to have JR on the floor at all times other than for him to catch his breath or if he is in foul trouble.

    At least give our bigs a chance and if nothing happens at least we tried and we are not left wondering if it would have worked or not. It’s like I have said before it seems like the few times that we, set a decent screen, actually roll to the basket hard, after that, with hand up, and the ball has made it to the player rolling, we have had some success. If our guards would just take a dribble or two in the correct direction when the defense does switch on the pick and roll I think they would be amazed how good of position the screener has and also how much easier the entry pass looks.

    I don’t include CW blindly driving into two or three defenders and throwing something up there in a very weak way only to have it fed back to him as part of what I’m talking about either when I say that we should try and get our bigs a little bit more involved. If he is going to put the ball on the floor then dammit do it with some authority and I don’t mean just lower his head and run over people. The short drive and reverse pivot for a short jumper has worked well for him but he seems unwilling to use it more than once or maybe twice at the most in any given game. It probably works for him because on film the other team sees that he has a huge tendency to not stop and pop or stop and reverse pivot for the short jumper.

    If he hasn’t already then maybe Crean needs to put this way to his guards. The more success our bigs have the easier it will be for you guys to score. I would be willing to bet that if and when we win a B10 game it will be a game where we have gotten a decent game out of our bigs and / or the other team has just fallen completely apart.

  • Anonymous

    I also wonder if there would concerns about the perception that we’re doing the opposing coaches job by giving them a free scouting report?

    I don’t think many coaches go out of their way to explain their gameplans in season. On the extreme end of that you get guys like Jim Calhoun who seems comtemptous of the idea they even need to do a press conference at times.

  • Anonymous

    Ditto. Not something we did real well against NW. If we had Shurna could not have gotten off as many of, the worst looking perimeter jumper in all of college ball, as he did. Oh well if it goes in that’s all that counts in the end.

  • Anonymous

    Just the words rebounding and IU being used in a positive way are good to hear regardless of which player it is.

    Yea, would have thought CZ would be well ahead of AE in this stat. Just another reason that I say that I think a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised by how much AE helps us, kind of like they have been in VO.

  • Anonymous

    Agree about Rivers.

    You speaking of our bigs getting the ball reminds me that I was happy to see signs of life from Capo at NW. He got a post pass and, with no hesitation, went aggressive to the basket, made a move and scored. First time I can remember in two years where one of our bigs got the ball with his back to the basket and immediately tried to score.

    Though part of me was a bit sad he didn’t clothesline or bodyslam anyone while he was on the court.

  • MillaRed

    The only thing I will add here Jerry, is something quite obvious. How many weeks have we been talking about communication on the court? Basically the team talking to each other out there. I just do not see this as an option. You have to talk to each other at the D1 level. I am trying to understand why this would be an issue for a single game, much less half a season. Kinda strange.

  • MillaRed

    Ace if we do go zone at some point in this game, let’s keep an eye on not only when we do so but what the results are before we go man to man again. Will be an interesting discussion post-game.

  • MillaRed

    Please put JR on Morris and VO on Novak! I think this gives us the best shot from the tip off.

  • MillaRed

    I would rather see TP and Capo pick up 5 fouls after grabbing the ball in the post and going to the hole like a freight train than picking them up hedging at the top of the key.

  • MillaRed

    Hey Diesel, why would we be jogging back half-heartedly with our head down in the first place?

  • Diesel

    Simply because it has been allowed MillaRed. I think the past couple of games we have seen it addressed, but it is something that irks me to no end, with CWat and DE being the worst offenders. Like you mention about communicating, why is getting back something that we need to address?

  • MillaRed

    How many times did we discuss what we thought JR could or could not be last year? Hundreds of posts discussing his mental game, his attitude, his demeanor.

    The fact he has become the player we all coveted may be one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. I simply feel better when he is on the court. As well as he is playing on D, he is angry with himself when he is beaten. I am not seeing that from a few others.

    I think he could do more on offense if we let him but I’m not going to get greedy.

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Goes a very long way towards displaying what kind of character that young man has! He took all the criticism, the benching, and all the bad press and turned around and made himself a much, much improved basketball player and leader.

    I personally am impressed with his growth this year not only as a player but as a leader.

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Apparently Buzz Williams didn’t like CTC’s system in his one year as an assistant at Marquette because I’m watching them drill Louisville right now and they move, cut, post, set screens, and slash! Beautiful offense to watch today.

  • MillaRed

    I hear you brother.

    I want Crean to succeed as much as anyone. Thing is, win or lose, hustling back on D and communicating are a given for any D1 program. That’s how you play the game. If we continue to suffer in these areas I will continue to ask why this is happening.

  • Anonymous

    I think Rivers comment about not knowing whether your man has your back or not is quite concerning and also maybe the real reason why this team has not yet been successful. In any team-oriented activity it takes all of the parts working together to achieve a common goal. In basketball it takes 5 guys having accountability for their job. If you can’t trust your teammates to do their job then there will undoubtedly be many distracting thoughts going through your head, as JR eluded to with the “getting beat off the dribble comment, that will make you lose accountability for what you are doing because you are now trying to do too much. Bottom line is, especially on defense, it takes 5 guys doing their job and not only that but it takes 5 guys knowing that everyone else is going to do theirs as well. This is where it starts and finishes in team atheletics

  • MillaRed

    Ha ha I am watching it too. No dribble drive in this one.

  • MillaRed

    And I assume this conversation takes place on the first day of organized team activities!

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Louisville comes closer to a Dribble Drive than Marquette!

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    You can pretty easily break the guys down into two groups: Those who are pretty solid defenders and those who aren’t. I would say it something like this:

    Those who are:
    Rivers, Oladipo, Sheehey, Pritchard, Daniel Moore (at least he’s quicker and has better instincts than some of our other guards).

    Those who aren’t:
    Watford, Jones, Hulls (he tries but he’s just too small and slow), Capo (fouls too much), Elston (terrible), Creek (hurt)

    That doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of options if you want to put a lineup with at least four solid defenders out there to cover for the one weaker guy. I would say it’s not wise to put 2 or more of those (aren’t) guys on the floor together, but when they comprise 2/3 of your team, what do you do?

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Man this Knowles kid from Louisville CAN’T miss!

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Or setting illegal screens 25 feet from the basket! I totally agree!

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Apparently Buzz did like the system of choking at the end of close games! HA!

  • kentuckyhoosier

    GO HOOSIERS ! I would like to see Daniel Moore play more , He is the one who consistantly gives 100% . Other than that all I have is GO HOOSIERS !!!

  • Marsh21

    RMK won consistantly for over 25 years so that cures many poor statements and actions around the media. Crean hasn’t won or even had teams yet with much desire at IU. Major difference between the two.

    Just because he’s recruiting in the State doesn’t have anything to do with his perceptions of people who ask questions during his media sessions or his flippent response at times.

    Of all the quotes he could have used from MLK to promote the man I just found it interesting he used one which could have a meaning beyond the obvious and point directly to people who are questioning his decisions. I certainly hope I’m reading into this wrong but when you get a little older you become a little jaded about the intent of people sometimes. He’s under fire which will only increase unless progress can be measured.

  • Marsh21

    RMK won consistantly for over 25 years so that cures many poor statements and actions around the media. Crean hasn’t won or even had teams yet with much desire at IU. Major difference between the two.

    Just because he’s recruiting in the State doesn’t have anything to do with his perceptions of people who ask questions during his media sessions or his flippent response at times.

    Of all the quotes he could have used from MLK to promote the man I just found it interesting he used one which could have a meaning beyond the obvious and point directly to people who are questioning his decisions. I certainly hope I’m reading into this wrong but when you get a little older you become a little jaded about the intent of people sometimes. He’s under fire which will only increase unless progress can be measured.

  • Marsh21

    RMK won consistantly for over 25 years so that cures many poor statements and actions around the media. Crean hasn’t won or even had teams yet with much desire at IU. Major difference between the two.

    Just because he’s recruiting in the State doesn’t have anything to do with his perceptions of people who ask questions during his media sessions or his flippent response at times.

    Of all the quotes he could have used from MLK to promote the man I just found it interesting he used one which could have a meaning beyond the obvious and point directly to people who are questioning his decisions. I certainly hope I’m reading into this wrong but when you get a little older you become a little jaded about the intent of people sometimes. He’s under fire which will only increase unless progress can be measured.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if Jeremiah had been more engaged with his teammates last year if he would have been able to be looked at as a leader by this team. He certainly has adapted to a role and not freelanced and done things outside of his skillset.

    When talking to the media- he certainly says things that make sense- but you have to wonder if many on the team simply tune him out to a large extent.

  • Anonymous

    Kuric with the game winner, played in high school with him. Hell of a comeback.

  • Anonymous

    no way that list is correct, Zeller is grabbing more than 10 a game consistently.

  • Anonymous

    You see, there’s a problem in personnel here….Buzz Williams actually has post players, so they can actually play into the post.

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