(NEW YORK – Nov. 6, 2012) – This is the season Indiana basketball fans have been waiting for. The talented and experienced Hoosiers begin the season ranked No. 1 in Sports Illustrated’s 2012 College Basketball Preview, on newsstands now. Cody Zeller, who may be the most important recruit to come to Indiana since Isiah Thomas, is set for a dominant sophomore season and is featured on Sports Illustrated’s regional cover. This marks the first time an Indiana Basketball player has been featured on the cover of SI since D.J. White in 2007.
The last five top ranked preseason teams to be featured on SI’s College Basketball preview have all at least reached the Sweet 16:
2012 – Indiana Hoosiers (TBD)
2011 – North Carolina Tar Heels (Elite 8)
2010 – Duke Blue Devils (Sweet 16)
2009 – Kansas Jayhawks (Sweet 16)
2008 – North Carolina Tar Heels (won NCAA title)
2007 – North Carolina Tar Heels (Final Four)
Indiana is one of four teams with its own cover this week, along with No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Kansas and No. 11 Syracuse.
Crean: Abell not ‘scratching surface of how good he can be’
Depth has been cited as one of the many reasons Indiana is the preseason pick to win the national championship.
But Tom Crean has been careful in the preseason to not prematurely anoint his team as deep until he can substitute without experiencing much of a drop off in production and consistency.
A big piece to establishing that consistency from the bench is sophomore guard Remy Abell.
As a freshman, Abell played sparingly for much of the season. But he filled in and played key minutes down the stretch with Verdell Jones out in a win at Purdue. He also did so in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament and three NCAA Tournament games. Those experiences should pay off for Abell, who is expected to take on a bigger role in his second season in Bloomington.
“It was big getting more playing time, especially on a big stage like the NCAA Tournament,” Abell said earlier this fall. “That stage was huge and coming into an even bigger stage, it’s definitely going to help.”
Like he did a season ago, Crean is hopeful that he has a solid core of players that can be interchangeable as starters and, right now, Abell appears to be squarely in that mix.
“I want to be able to look at it and say ‘we’ve got seven starters.’ Remy’s one of those guys,” Crean said after Thursday’s exhibition win over Indiana Wesleyan. “If I had to look at it today, he’s one of those seven guys that I’d say, ‘he could start for this team.'”
This preseason has been a productive one for Abell as he’s been one of the most consistent perimeter players for the Hoosiers through the first two public scrimmages and the exhibition game. In the win over Indiana Wesleyan, he stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 13 minutes.
“He got better throughout the game. He was not as aggressive as he needed to be,” Crean said. “He’s playing in a box, which is one of my terms for when you’re very narrow and you’re not spreading out and bringing that spacing to the game and creating havoc for your man. He got better at that.”
Getting to the basket was one of Abell’s strengths throughout high school and as a freshman, but working on his perimeter game was an offseason necessity to grow more confident offensively. Thus far, he’s appeared more confident in taking the perimeter shot and knocking it down, even with a man in his face.
Indiana has gone from “Yeah! We’re back in the NCAA tournament” to “We’re favored to win a national title” in the span of seven months, cementing its status eight days after Kentucky captured the 2012 crown when Zeller and Christian Watford announced they’d return to college.
Both Crean and his players insist they don’t feel the weight of that pressure, that coming from the bottom up has made them appreciate the view, not gape at it.
“I know that Indiana basketball is a huge part of the daily existence for a lot of people. I know that,” Crean said. “But as a coach you can’t sit here and think, ‘I don’t want to let people down.’ That’s not pressure. Pressure is going on the road in the Big Ten with seven walk-ons and trying to convince them that they could win. And when they didn’t, doing it all over again the next day. That’s pressure.”
Around the Big Ten: Izzo unhappy with frontcourt play
With the start of the regular season just four days away, Inside the Hall takes you around the Big Ten for the latest on IU’s conference foes:
· Illinois: Sophomore guard Tracy Abrams led four players in double figures as the Illini beat West Chester 75-66 in an exhibition game Sunday afternoon. The good news is Illinois won the game. The bad news? They were outscored 46-31 in the second half. Based on first year coach John Groce’s postgame comments, it sounds like Brandon Paul may be the team’s sixth man with Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, D.J. Richardson, Sam McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu as the starters. Paul had five turnovers on Sunday.
· Nebraska: The Tim Miles era has yet to officially get underway in Lincoln as the Cornhuskers have yet to play an exhibition game and won’t do so until Wednesday night when they host Midland University. The first KenPom ratings had Nebraska all the way down at No. 216 nationally as every other team in the league was ranked in the top 90.
Troy Williams enjoying attention following IU commitment
Since his verbal commitment to Indiana last Sunday afternoon, Troy Williams says he has been feeling the love from Indiana fans on Twitter.
“It’s like non-stop hype,” Williams told Inside the Hall via text on Sunday. “I love it though. It means they’re really a basketball state and I like that.”
It’s the “hype” surrounding the IU basketball program that convinced Williams to commit to play for the Hoosiers next season. Williams said that before he visited for Hoosier Hysteria on Oct. 19, IU was only a member of his top three (with North Carolina and Louisville).
“But that had a lot of impact on me after that,” Williams said.
Ultimately, though, Williams said it was his relationship with Tom Crean that pushed IU above the other suitors. Even though the Hoosiers didn’t start recruiting Williams until July, Crean managed to make a strong impact in a short time.
“I got along with him better than I did with [North Carolina] coach Roy [Williams],” he said. “Plus, he didn’t just tell me what I was good at but also what I can improve on and more.”
Williams has had a strong start to his senior season for Oak Hill Academy, scoring 21, 28 and 18 points in his first three games. But the 6-foot-7 forward knows there are areas in which he must improve before he gets to the collegiate level.
“Shooting and defense,” Williams said. “That’s the two I wanna improve on.”
Williams also said he has a strong relationship with 2013 target Noah Vonleh, the 8th-ranked player in the class, according to ESPN.com.
There’s no shortage of offensive firepower with the Hoosiers, and the great thing about Tom Crean is that he’s never afraid to use it. Indiana was well inside the top half of the country in tempo last season, and with an extra year of chemistry it’s a good bet they’ll play even faster this time around. It’s no surprise, then, that Ken Pomeroy projects them first in offensive efficiency; they’re going to score and score and score. There are no cracks in the Hoosier facade, and they’re on the right side of the philosophical divide between fast and slow.
Notebook: Creek shines in return from injury
Maurice Creek got off the bench and walked toward the Assembly Hall scorer’s table with just over 11 minutes left in the first half of Thursday night’s exhibition game against Indiana Wesleyan. Creek checked in with the official scorer, then waited patiently for the moment he’s been thinking about for more than 20 months — the moment he’d walk back onto Branch McCracken Court in a game.
A dead ball came at the 10:57 mark, and Creek entered to a standing ovation. He couldn’t help but smile.
“A standing ovation?,” Creek said afterward. “That’s big time, that’s love. I can’t do nothing but thank them, thank everybody.”
Creek played in a game for the first time since Jan. 15, 2011 on Thursday after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles. The redshirt junior guard wasted little time making up for lost time.
Creek scored a team-high 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting — including 2-of-4 from 3-point range — in just 15 minutes on the court.
“I felt great,” Creek said. “Being with these guys is what I always wanted. … I thank these guys every day to give me the strength to go through the rehab, go through the rough times and rebuild to get to this point.”
Added Indiana coach Tom Crean: “I was really excited for Maurice. It was emotional watching the crowd react to him. It wasn’t surprising because it’s Indiana, but you can’t take it for granted. … It’s been a long road, but he’s earned it. He’ll be better for it, and I think you’ve seen he can really help this team.”
Crean understands he’ll have with be careful not to push Creek too hard too fast after his three surgeries, but he also wants Creek to be part of the regular rotation. Crean knows finding that balance will be one of his major challenges with Creek this season.
“When he shows that burst, that shows that the legs are getting a little stronger,” Crean said. “He’s still a ways away, and I’m getting more conscious of that. It’s going to be a long year and we want him to be strong for the whole thing.”
Hoosiers overcome slow start
It wasn’t exactly the start you may have expected to see from the No. 1 Hoosiers, but they quickly found their groove.
IU fell behind 13-4 early against Indiana Wesleyan due, in part, to poor defensive execution. The Hoosiers lost some shooters on the perimeter, and paid the price.
“It’s just not being up into your guy,” Crean said. “It’s not like they were out of position. We weren’t bringing enough pressure to the game. We’ll get better at that. We don’t practice like that. We were just off a step a little bit, and then we fixed that.”
The Hoosiers fixed it, indeed, outscoring the Wildcats 37-17 the rest of the half. After a sluggish start, IU showed more defensive intensity as the game went on and regularly turned their defense into offense.
“Going down 13-4 never really helps you,” said IU junior forward Will Sheehey, “but we saw that and knew we had to pick it up on D. I don’t think that’s going to happen very often from here.”
Eligibility status of Mosquera-Perea, Jurkin still uncertain
Indiana freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin have yet to be cleared to play by the NCAA and Tom Crean was asked to provide an update on their status following Thursday’s 86-57 exhibition win over Indiana Wesleyan.
The process of determining the eligibility for both players is still ongoing based on Crean’s comments.
“What I can say about that is that we go through a lot in a program,” he said. “There’s situations that are always going to arise and every one of them has got a process to it. And we’re in the middle of that process. We just are. That’s the extent of it. They’re two great kids that are trying to get better every day and it’s not like it’s anything that we’re dealing with that just came up. It’s been a process for some time. And that’s really where we’re at with it.”
Mosquera-Perea, who was in uniform, sat out against Indiana Wesleyan with a left foot injury that has hampered him for much of the summer and fall.
Jurkin, a native of the Sudan, played 11 minutes, scored four points and grabbed one rebound. Crean said he was encouraged by how Jurkin played, but acknowledged that he’s very much a work in progress.
“He’s gotta learn how to play,” Crean said. “There’s not one guy on the team that doesn’t want to see him succeed. And what I need is, I need them to start being harder on him because he’s pretty good. Again, he needs to play. He needs that time. He needs to learn how to use his length and he’s not strong enough yet. There’s no way around that, but he needs the chance to play so that he can grow into it because he’s an extremely willing learner.”