Tom Crean met with the media on Thursday afternoon to discuss Indiana’s season opener on Friday night against Mississippi Valley State and also look ahead to Monday’s game against Texas Southern, which is coached by Mike Davis.
Watch the full press conference below:
Quotes are available after the jump.
Tom Crean: A couple updates: Just where we’re at, and then I’ll get into the teams. Our big focus right now is we’ve got to continue not only to improve in everything but to really understand the urgency that we have to have defensively, and then culminating with defensive rebounding. One of the main reasons we’ve won 73 games over the last three years is because our rebound margin has been so good. Last year I think it was sixth in the nation, right. And we’ve lost some really good rebounders over time, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t become a really good team, and I thought we made — rebound the ball. We made some improvements the other night inside of the game when we got physical and when we got aggressive and when we made contact first, and I think that’s really, really important for this team that everybody has to do everything when it comes to the defensive end. We’ve always been a switching team. We’ve been a high deflection team, and I think the better job we do right now with being aggressive on the glass, the more aggressive we’re going to be in half court defense, which is going to turn into more created turnovers and things like that that we need to get our running game going.
It starts with defensive transition. There’s no question about that. We’ve got to continue to understand the urgency of that. A guy like Yogi understands that. Nick Zeisloft understands that. The young guys, that takes time, and we don’t want to wait until we’ve played this lightning speed team because we’ve played a couple of really fast guards and some high major guards with Parker and with Jones in the first game, and as we said to our team, Jones will be maybe one of the three fastest guys that come in here the entire year. Well, there’s going to be some very fast teams that come in, and we’ve got to make sure we do a really good job of understanding that. We’ve got to get our close-outs better, and our footwork is improving, and we’ve seen a lot of improvement since the summer, but it’s got to improve at an even higher level, and then it’s got to culminate with a defensive board. The things that you do the most, you have to be the best at. Running the court in transition both ways, and rebounding the ball on both ends of the court.
It’s got to come from guards. Our guard rebounds have really got to go up. The challenge is out to Yogi that he’s got to improve not only his rebound numbers, which I’m not as concerned about rebound numbers as I am about rebound percentage and the defensive objecting and offensive rebounding percentages. Now, the guards, Yogi is never really going to be measured in the offensive rebound percentage, but the defensive rebounding percentage and where he wants to go as a player, nationally, and where we need this team to go, he’s got to get his defensive rebounding percentage numbers up in that — we have start in the 10 to 12 percent range and then go up into the 13 to 15 percent range as the year goes on, and there’s no better time than to get started with that right now, because when you get active and when you get five guys inside under the foul line and they’re flying in and they’re creating contact, there’s going to be a lot of rebounds and there’s going to be a ton of long rebounds. We’re going to shoot threes. We’ve faced a lot of three-point shooting, and we’re not going to win all the 50/50 contests just by out-jumping people. We’re not big enough. But we have to win some of those by doing our work early, and I think you saw some improvements even in Yogi going from side to side on the court the other night. When he makes his mind up that he can be good at it, he’s usually pretty good at it. So defensively we’ve got to continue to get better.
Offensively we’ve just really got to understand spacing, and we’re spending a lot of time on spacing and where we want to attack from. Don’t leave until the ball hits here. Don’t leave the corner early because we haven’t hit the screen yet. Young guys always get in a rush, and the floor has a tendency to shrink rather than to enlarge, and for us to be at our best very, we’ve got to enlarge it. We’ve got to use the entire part of the half court. We can’t shrink in, and we can’t bring our steps in. We’ve got to stay truly committed to the spacing. There’s two phrases we use a lot: Be committed to the spacing and finish your cut.
In none of those areas does it mean jog or creep up, and the other thing we’ve got to really get better at is our sprinting into screens. Our screening is improving, but our quickness into the screens has got to get better because I think that will increase our ability to get the ball into the paint, which will give us more open shots, and I think the ball movement has been pretty good. As we get better at making decisions and getting used to playing with one another, the turnovers are going to need to come down, but at the same time, our turnovers created have got to go up. We’ve got to create more turnovers. We’re not necessarily a full-pressure team yet. At some points in the season we’ll have the ability to pressure the game more full or three-quarter court is the plan, but right now we’ve got — because we have a shorter bench, we’ve got to make sure that we’re committing to doing what it takes to win the game.
That’s where we’re at right now. Jeremiah has been back in limited parts of practice with contact, which is good. Max, not sure yet if he’ll still be on a minute limit, but we didn’t practice Tuesday, but he practiced well yesterday. You’re seeing the effects of really a strong rehabilitation program, great medical staff, and a committed young man in the way that Collin Hartman is back out there, and he deserves the credit because he’s worked so hard to put himself back in that position. We’ll just continue to improve.
I’ll open it up to questions about the two games, but as far as Devin, I was with Devin on Sunday, and a lot of the afternoon on Tuesday, Je’Ney Jackson was up there most of the day. We had a chance to go through his rehabilitation and go through his therapies and get a chance to see that. He’s working extremely hard. He’s in a great place as far as his medical care, just a tremendous place. He really couldn’t have been in a better place when it initially happened with being here in Bloomington and with the doctors and nurses and care that he had, and it’s certainly the same way right now up at the rehab hospital.
They’re outstanding. I don’t have any other update on him other than that he’s making progress and working very hard and doing everything that’s asked of him, and he’s having a lot be asked of him because he’s been through a lot.
His spirits are good. He’s anxious to be back with this team as this team is anxious to have him back, but the most important thing that I keep telling him that he can do is be his very best there every day with what they’re asking him to do and keep making progress, just like our team is making progress on the court, just like he was making progress on the court when he was here. He’s got to make progress there in a whole other way. That’s where we’re at.
Q. Expanding a little bit on the defensive rebounding you talked about, if the guards are going to have to rebound more, how does that change being able to go the other way, getting out in transition, which is a thing you’ve really liked to do the past couple years when you’ve had a really defensive rebounder like Noah?
Tom Crean: Well, I think if you look back at this team, Victor was a guard, very good rebounding guard, and our belief is that when you get a defensive board — there’s some limitations to some. Everybody should know the bust-out dribble, okay, but we’re not real rule-oriented on who gets the board, who they have to find. Just be gone. Now, a made basket we are, but on the missed basket, go, all right, take off and go. Now, if you’re tentative, you don’t put the ball out in front of you, those become issues. Those become back tips. Those become turnovers. That happened to us some last year.
But when we get a defensive board, we’re gone, and then our job is we have one man to beat, beat him, and if there’s somebody ahead, throw it to him. We need to continue to understand, again, even on the break, we’re in our break too tight. Everything is too tight right now, and whether it’s our transition offense, whether it’s our half court offense. We’ve got to understand all this space that’s out there, and that’s easier said than done.
You think, well, that’s pretty easy they’ve got all this court, but they’re not used to it. They’re not used to the spacing, the rules that go inside of that, and especially when you’ve got to create penetration because it’s all about creating all these different help situations, creating all the two-on-one situations.
Well, a defensive board for a guard, you just pretty much skipped a step on the outlet. He’s gone. So there’s a lot of value to that. There’s a lot of value to defensive rebounding guard-wise, and then it’s up to me or up to them to show me that they can handle it, make the right decisions, all right, on that break with the ball, rather than trying to hit a home run or not being able to handle it the right way, and then we kind of go from there. But that’s one of the reasons that our scoring has been so good and that we’ve led the Big Ten in scoring. If you look at a three-year period of time we’ve led the Big Ten in scoring because we had numerous ways to get into transition to different guys being able to rebound the ball and push it out.
Q. Is your approach for these two games coming up any different because you’re not going to be at full strength until after that?
Tom Crean: No, no, not really. Not preparation-wise. But we’ve got a lot of games in a short period of time, so you have to start factoring that. We would have already factored that in to our practices before now, and then certainly when you’re going to be short-handed in those games, you’ve got to factor it in that much more.
To me, knowing that we’re playing Friday, playing Monday, playing Thursday, playing Saturday, correct? You have to factor that part of it in. Maybe a little bit with pressure, but not much. You know, I’ve tried to get that across to them. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing six or if we’re playing 10. It really doesn’t matter right now. We’re going to play the win the game, whatever it takes, and we’ve made a lot more — we’ll switch to this defense, we’re not going to think about it, we’re not going to wait until we’re three possessions, we’re not going to talk about it at a halftime. We’re certainly not going to wait until halftime, even when we’re putting things on the fly.
We’re not anywhere near refined enough at having a lot of different things where we’ll be extremely effective defensively, but we’ve got guys that are out there trying to — they’re playing very hard, and they’re getting better inside of the game. I think there is no question about that the other night with the way that we — we went on the run because our defense was good, and we got good shots, but we went on the run because our defense and our aggressiveness picked up in the first half, and so they got hit — Indianapolis is extremely well-coached. We said it to them, but until they know that that team was coming out like they were shot out of a cannon, it takes a bit for them to realize that, that everybody is for real, and you’ve got to play with force because the other team is going to play with force.
It doesn’t change a lot. Every game is different, but there’s certain things we’re going to go to every game, and then we just make our revisions based on what we see from the other team offensively and defensively.
Q. How do you approach, when you know you’re going to be creating a lot of long rebounds, taking a lot of deep shots, how do you approach getting a team like this one getting ready for that? What’s different about drilling long rebounds versus just sort of —
Tom Crean: Where you cut them from, where you have them cut from, doing a better job out of the corners, and making sure that — still, the biggest thing, it’s not the offensive rebounding, it’s the defensive transition. It’s making sure — and we have some young guys that are not used to what the speed of our non-conference opponents and the speed of the Big Ten with guys, and not just the speed but the force of that speed, the strength of those guys and what it takes because you want to get back and hold your ground and get everybody back. You don’t want to be back and let people just drive through you, and until they’ve been through it a little bit, so it’s not as much about the offensive boards as it is the defensive transition.
Defensively, as long as we’re getting a body on people, we’re not letting people — we need better awareness. We need better weak-side awareness, those type of things. It’s just that awareness of day after day, getting your man, pivoting into him, and making contact and then releasing. But making contact, and not letting the contact be made with you but you making the contact.
No matter where it is, if we’re in the corners, we still have responsibilities, whether we’re coming through the middle and getting back, whether we’re rotating back, whether we’re wedging on the inside, so we spend a lot of time drilling those things, and what we’ve got to do now is get even better at being more technique-oriented with our aggressiveness on the defensive board.
Q. We’ve seen both sides in particular picking up on your defensive concepts. How much did the exhibition games help them along that path?
Tom Crean: Well, we need better screen awareness defensively. We need better — we spend a lot of time on how we get over screens, especially ball screens, or how we play wide pin-downs or pin-downs or things of that nature. We’re not a big let’s let the team curl and over-help team. We’re not — everything we do, we’re trying to decrease help, not increase help, because increasing help against really good teams that are smart, know how to pass, know how to shoot, which is what you’re full of in this league, you’re going to give them open looks, so you can’t do that. But we need better screen awareness, better weak-side awareness, better screen awareness.
And not just knowing that the screen is coming, but really following the rules on how we play those screens. So that’s an area that we need to get better at. We don’t want to be a team that switches out of convenience. We want a switch to take something away. We don’t want to be a team that rests and catches our breath on the weak side. That’s different for young guys. They have to understand that the weak side is as valuable as the ball side.
So it’s reps, it’s live situations, and then there’s no substitute for what they get with game experience.
Q. Looked like you were playing more with Yogi a little bit more off the ball. Do you expect to do that more as the season goes along, let the freshmen get a little more —
Tom Crean: Well, the key for us is versatility on both ends of the floor, and when you have a dynamic player like Yogi that can do so many different things, it’s important to put him in those situations. Extremely, extremely smart player. He can adjust to so many different things, and there’s no question about it, right now game plans are built — they can’t be only built on him, but they are, I would imagine, not in the other scouting rooms, but I can see how they try to take him away. They’re built to make it harder for him.
The bigger key for him constantly is not to not have the ball in his hands, it’s to get the ball back in his hands when the game is in movement. We always use the phrase, get lost in the game. And the bottom line is with Yogi being able to do so many different things with and without the ball, to have him in movement and have him to be that much harder to scout, it’s better for us, and I think our players are going to see that, and I think Yogi is starting to see that, and he’s a basketball player. He’s a tremendous point guard by trade, but he’s not just a point guard. He’s not just — he’s a two-way player. He can do a lot of different things, and he’s constantly evolving and improving.
Q. You talked about the defensive rebounding. A guy like Rob Johnson had nine. What does he do right now a little bit better than some of the other younger guards?
Tom Crean: He was in the right place at the right time. We got better as the game went on. He’s aggressive. He’s got a low center of gravity. I think you saw it with his offense. He’s lower, he’s got his head up. He’s got a lot of tenacity. Maybe it’s the fact that he trains with Ben Wallace. I’m not kidding. Ben Wallace and his father are best of friends. He trains in Ben Wallace’s gym. There’s a story line for you. In fact, I think it’s one of the reasons he’s so strong is because we went in there this spring to see him, and I don’t know how much you remember about Ben Wallace, but he’s no smaller, all right. He’s a first-ballot hall of famer when it’s time for him and still keeps himself in incredible shape. Rob Johnson doesn’t want to go in the weight room and not be impressive; you know what I mean? I’m half facetious on the rebounding, but Rob Johnson is a basketball player. He can do numerous things. He can play off the ball, with the ball, he’s getting better in a lot of areas, and he wants to be on the court.
So right now if you want to be on the court and you know that defensive rebounding is going to be a key to our team and a key to you being on the court, he’s pretty good at figuring that out.
He’s one of those guys, he’s been well-coached, he’s been well-trained, and his father is a tremendous basketball mind and has really pushed him in areas to keep getting better. It’s one of the reasons we recruited him or wanted him so much after we got to know him.
He’s just — when you’re going to play small and you’re going to play numerous guards, it’s not about this guy is this position, this guy is that position. If they’re going to win, they’ve got to be able to do a lot of different things, and that’s where our hope is to get this.
Q. Talking about one of the keys is reducing the turnovers, I think you had 18 the last game which I know is not what you want, but what’s a realistic goal when you get everybody back?
Tom Crean: I don’t know yet. I’ve been looking at that because we’ve had very few games when we’ve had 10 or under, even when we were No. 1 in the country we had very few games. If you’re going to play fast, you’re going to have some turnovers. You don’t want them to be risk adverse. You don’t want them to be — you just don’t want them to make decisions that they thought were there but that were never there, and you don’t want players to make plays that look like highlight plays, okay. You want them to make basketball plays. And sometimes it’s just a matter of creating a better angle. Sometimes it’s a matter of putting more velocity on the ball. Those are things that you can continue to teach. So I’m not sure yet what that number would be, what that optimal number would be. We want to be one of the faster-paced teams, all right, and I think we have guards that understand the value of basketball. We’ve had some guys, even last year, didn’t totally understand the value of the basketball. I think that will become an issue as we get down the line and we get deeper into the season.
If you’ve got some volume turnovers it’s going to be very hard to play you because that’s not how you win. But at the same time, we want players that can create more turnovers so we can get more possessions. But our players are going to understand the value of — we want to steal possessions, not give them back, because we’ve hit them hard on, this is what would have happened if we’d have made two more threes a game last year. This is what would have happened if we’d have had two less, three less turnovers a game last year. Staggering numbers. Two more threes a game, we win six more games. Two more threes. If we just hit the number of threes we made the year before, it’s six more games, just like that.
So it’s not about showing them, well, these 15 things have to change because 15 things don’t have to change. What has to change is we have to continue to improve, and every team is different, but you have to continue to improve at your weak points, and you have to be committed to that improvement. All the meanwhile, you’re getting better at your strengths. Eventually creating more turnovers will be a strength of this team, it’s just not necessarily there yet against the best teams.
But our guys understand, and it’s a fun team to pass to. Something good can happen when you pass it. We just want to make simple basketball plays the best we can, and like I always say to them, the better you are, the simpler the game should look, and when you’ve got to try to make hard plays, what you’re telling everybody else is you’re not very good. When you make simple plays, what you’re telling basketball experts is you’re pretty good because you understand how to win, and that’s what we want to keep getting across to them.
Q. You mentioned how rebounding percentages are more important than rebounding averages —
Tom Crean: I said that in the case of Yogi, for guards.
Q. I guess kind of big picture in game preparation, do you use Ken Pom to kind of advance stats?
Tom Crean: Sure, absolutely. I think Ken Pom is really good. I think the new person that they’re using that — is it Dave Hanner, I’ve read some of his stuff. I think I’m saying that right?
Q. Dan Hanner.
Tom Crean: Dan Hanner. I haven’t met him, but I respect his work. We have our own in-house system that we utilize, but absolutely we took at our things, and we measure — there’s tools with a little T and there’s tools with a capital T, and some of those tools with capital T tools. They can help you base things.
But when you’re sitting there making real-time decisions in a game, nobody is pulling out the analytics numbers much, but you do have people that you’ve made yourself aware that, you know what your lineups are in this situation, and you have people — we’re tracking that stuff constantly on the bench.
But there’s no question we look at all of that.
Q. What do you expect out of both Mississippi Valley —
Tom Crean: I’ll go over both those teams. Mississippi Valley, they’re a new team right now with coach — hey, what we’ve done is we’ve gone back to Wiley College where he was at before and studied. Chuck has been doing a great job at this, and in this day and age you can track down film if you want to, so we have. He mixes up his defenses, a lot of full-court pressure, some three-quarter court, loves to trap at the top of the key, loves to trap in the corners, plays a 2-3 zone with a trap on it, and mixes up his coverages on the ball screens, and they’re coming up one game against Stillman College, so we studied the personnel from a year ago and we’ve studied that exhibition game. We’re fully aware of Tyler Corley, who led them in points in the first game with 21 points. Had a chance to see him a lot playing at Lawrence Central. Extremely well coached by J.R. Shelt, and obviously when recruiting Jeremy we got to see him play a ton. They’re going to be fast, they’re going to be quick. They’re not overly — they’re not an overly big team, but they’re very fast and aggressive. They caused, I believe, 23 turnovers, or 27 turnovers the other day.
So we know we’re going to see a lot of pressure from them, and then how they decide to play offensively, we’ll have to wait and see. I would imagine they’ll come in and play fast, but they may not. They may try to shrink the game.
As far as Texas Southern coming in, obviously Mike Davis is an absolute proven winner, and I’ve known Mike — I don’t know him great by any stretch, but I’ve known him since he was even in the CBA before he ever came to Indiana. I met him when I was actually at Pittsburgh, and we had a great defensive conversation one night when I was an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, and I’ve followed him, and he obviously came to Indiana, competed against him the year that they went to the national championship game when we were at Marquette, played him in Alaska, had a great game, beat them at the very end, and he’s a proven winner. He’s a proven winner at Indiana, he’s a proven winner at UAB. He’s an excellent coach, and he’s got tremendous principles defensively.
He keeps the game — he’s always playing to the strengths of his teams offensively. He’s got a very good player right now among others in Chris Thomas, who has been a national name on the circuit for years, back even going to his freshman, sophomore year in high school, moved around to a couple places, but he’s with him. And I look at that championship team, and I think some of those guys will be in attendance that night. We’re going to have a reunion at some point for that team, honoring that team down the road, an anniversary-type deal like we’ve done with other teams there. This is probably just one where there’s some guys coming to see their old coach and coming to see Indiana, which I think is cool.
But that team that he had, the best comparison that I would give it to in another time period right now would be UConn last year, because Shabazz Napier put that team on his back but he had a bunch of other really good players that knew what they were doing, that knew how to play, that knew what their strengths were, and stayed away from their weaknesses. And that’s exactly what Mike did with that team.
Jarrad was probably in the role of Shabazz Napier even though he was 6’11”, but he’s the guy that you play through. I remember when we played that team, our whole key was how many times Jarrad would touch the ball because Jarrad’s skill level and skill set was such that everything ran through him. So the more limitations we could put on him catching the ball, the more that we could affect the rest of the game. That was our whole number one premise walking into that game.
That’s pretty rare when you’ve got a sophomore. It’s not just that he could score but that he could play through, and that tape, when we were recruiting Cody and we showed — we made a video, a really good highlight video of championship teams, right, at Indiana, and we showed that one in the sense of this is what can happen when you have somebody you can go to and you can play through and when everybody understands their role, and that’s exactly what that team had, whether it was Tom Coverdale, whether it was Jarrad Odle.
I remember another part of our game plan, if Jarrad Odle comes in and gets 10 points and seven rebounds, we’re not winning the game, and our players look at Jarrad Odle, but that’s the impact that he had on that team. Obviously everybody knew about Newton and Leach and Dane Fife and Coverdale, but it was all of that team that was so good. It was A.J. Moye, it was all of that group that made things happen. It was Kyle Hornsby.
I mean, they were such an outstanding shooting team, what they did in Lexington that year was unbelievable, when they went in there and won, and the next year we went to the Final Four. So we learned so much from watching them play.
Mike is an outstanding coach, and I hope he gets a tremendous reception when he comes in here, because obviously the way he got his job was different, obviously, but that man took that team to a Final Four and to a championship. I hope that he gets a great reception. He deserves it. He deserves it. And that’s whether I have ever met him or not, he deserves it, because he took Indiana to a really strong place, and to me that’s important. I hope when people see those players that night that they’re really great with them because they made everybody stand up and take notice that you don’t have to be on everybody’s all-American list, you don’t have to be in everybody’s top ranking. It’s not about what star you are. You get a bunch of guys harnessed around a plan and you’ve got a player you can play through like Jarrad, amazing things can happen.
Q. How did that come about, did you reach out to them?
Tom Crean: This is all part of the thing we’re doing with SMU, so three games at home, and then we play SMU at home, so it’s all part of that classic. But I had no opposition to that when it came up, none whatsoever. It’ll be good. They’re going to be really good. They’ve got older players, and Chris Thomas can really, really play. I think there’s a reason that there’s so many NBA teams that are looking to be at that game. He’s a prospect, real prospect. We’ve got to — every game is tough. It just is what it is.