New-look Hoosiers ready for another in-state test

  • 12/16/2011 12:46 pm in

The last time the Hoosiers played Notre Dame, the Indiana basketball program was in shambles.

It was November of 2008, the beginning of Tom Crean’s first season in Bloomington. The Hoosiers lost to the No. 8 Fighting Irish 88-50 in the Maui Invitational, their first of 25 losses in a trying season.

Indiana’s leading scorer that day was Tom Pritchard (14 points, six rebounds), who has been part of the program’s resurrection since then.

“It definitely feels different,” Pritchard said. “It’s just been a giant step. From the team freshman year to where we are now — I’m blessed to be on this team.”

The No. 20 Hoosiers (9-0) enter Saturday’s game against Notre Dame (7-4) at Conseco Fieldhouse as the heavy favorite — a far cry from where they were three-plus years ago. They’re fresh off a 73-72 upset of then-No. 1 Kentucky, and they’ve had an entire week to prepare for their Crossroads Classic opponent.

Even though final exams kept the Hoosiers from having a normal practice schedule, Crean said his team is ready and focused for the Irish.

“I don’t want them to put [the Kentucky win] behind them. I want them to build on it,” Crean said. “If we tried to downplay that game, it wouldn’t make much sense.

“[Notre Dame] is a really good team. They’re learning to play without Tim [Abromaitis], and you can see that. That’s a veteran group. … You’ve got to be really locked in to knowing that their spacing is their great weapon. They can drive it, they can pass it and they utilize the corners.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Hoosiers will be preparing for a team that plays nothing like their previous opponent. Whereas Kentucky thrives in the fastbreak game and looks to drive for easy baskets, the Irish live and die by the 3-pointer. Notre Dame has made 72 3-pointers in 11 games, compared to only 48 for Kentucky through nine games.

Leading the way in that department for Notre Dame is guard Eric Atkins, who has made 16 shots from beyond the arc and is averaging 13.9 points per game.

“We’ve been watching film on it and we’ve been studying it,” said Indiana guard Victor Oladipo. “We’re just going to continue to play good defense and stress help side defense.”

Notre Dame is coming off back-to-back wins against Maine and Dartmouth, but the Irish have struggled against quality competition this season. They’ve played only two ranked teams (Missouri and Gonzaga), and lost by 20 or more points to each of them.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey knows his team will face a similar challenge against the Hoosiers — especially after the win they just had.

“We’re facing at team that’s extremely confident right now, given what’s happened the last two weeks,” Brey said. “I looked at the score from the last time we played them in Maui. It’s just opposite now. They had all young guys running around and walk-ons. We had all men who won together. It’s really kind of the scenario has flipped.”

NOTES

+¬†Crean said forward Derek Elston, who missed last week’s game against Kentucky with a back injury, has practiced all week and has looked good.

+ After Butler made back-to-back runs to the NCAA Championship game and Purdue and Notre Dame made the NCAA Tournament last season, it seemed unlikely the Hoosiers would have a chance to become the state’s premier team this season.

A win against the Irish on Saturday would put them a step closer to taking back the state.

“One of our goals was to dominate in-state so we’ve just got to continue to do that,” Pritchard said.

Filed to: