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 didn’t get a good look at it during the game at all. I didn’t see it until it was on the film. I brought him up to the plane. He stayed with the same thing. He said to me that he didn’t do it intentionally. I know exactly what it looks like. I told him the same thing. When I looked at it the referee had a good view of it. I didn’t argue it. In comparison to (Devan Dumes’s intentional foul two years ago) I don’t think there is any comparison because there’s no question that that was intentional. I wasn’t surprised by it. In this situation, it would be highly out of character for Derek to be dishonest or do something of that nature in a negative way. It would be truly out of character, and if he did it would be a mistake. That’s the end of story. We got the intentional foul, they got the foul shots. I looked at it. I discussed it with him. But the last thing I’m going to do is break down a trust by accusing a player of something that he says he didn’t do on purpose. I’m not trying to put my head in the sand, that’s just the way that it is. Again, it would be different if it was something that was after the fact that you see on film. Those are the things that you react a little bit more to. The referee saw it, the referee handled it.”
If you haven’t had a chance to see the play in question, here’s a link.
I wrote last nightin The Minute After after watching the replay a couple of times that I believed that Elston stuck his foot out on purpose and the trip was a cheap move by Elston. I’m sticking to that analysis.
“We’re getting better. We’re a better team than we were in Las Vegas. We’re a better team than we were last Monday night. We’ve started to make some turns back where we needed to be in the second half against Ohio State. We’ve had really good days of work and I had great confidence that we’d win this game, great confidence. And I think they did as the game went on but we made too many mistakes along the way and (Blake) Hoffarber made some tough shots. We didn’t get great basketball from different guys. The positive thing for me, and I hope I feel the same way when I watch the tape, is that we made so many mistakes and they got some loose balls and loose rebounds and we still had an opportunity to win this game going right down to the end. This team just deserves to get over the hump and know what that feel likes to win one of those games. It’s coming. I have no doubt.”
On this morning’s Big Ten coaches teleconference, Indiana coach Tom Crean was asked whether Maurice Creek’s struggles this season were more mental or physical by C.L. Brown of The Louisville Courier-Journal.
Crean said it’s a combination of both, but noted that Creek’s mental struggles are being fed by the fact that he’s not the same physically:
I think the mental plays into it because the physical is not there. And when you can’t do what you’re used to doing, that’s certainly going to become part of the mental process for you.
He’s working very hard through it. We need him to continue to get better defensively and find things that he can do to help us that much more. He’s certainly not shooting it at a high level right now like most guys that score points. A lot of times their mindset is predicated on if the ball is going in the basket or not. And he’s gotta understand that it’s not always going to go in the basket for him right now because he can’t do all of the things he did a year ago or a little over a year ago before he got hurt.
BLOOMINGTON –- Watching Indiana basketball develop over the last two-plus years has been something akin to watching a college freshman trying to take an 400-level test while also trying to study the material.
Friday night certainly seemed like another such example, given the giant disparity in sheer talent between No. 2 Ohio State and IU, now 9-6 and 0-2 in the Big Ten.
But perhaps it’s a credit to Indiana that these games — where the gulf between the two teams is so easily recognized – have begun to serve an even more important purpose.
First of all, to be fair, they’re becoming harder to find. No longer are the Hoosiers as outmatched as they once were in either talent or depth.
Christian Watford, one game lost to back spasms aside, continues to put forth All-Big Ten performances. The more aggressiveness Tom Crean can coax out of Jordan Hulls offensively – and the more room Hulls can find on offense – the more dangerous he’ll become. Victor Oladipo continues to emerge offensively as well.
But by Crean’s own admission, Friday night served to highlight a problem in need of rapid correction as Big Ten play enters January. Seeking to compare his team’s effort Friday, when the Hoosiers struggled mightily on defense but never truly let the game slip away or their hustle wane until the end, to the loss last Monday to Penn State, Indiana’s coach was frank.
“If we’d have played with the same spirit and energy on Monday night that we had tonight – it’s not an excuse, we lost by 18 – but we’d have won the game,” he said of Penn State. “We would have won the game. We’d be 1-1, going to Minnesota.
Listen to the postgame comments of Indiana coach Tom Crean, freshman Victor Oladipo and sophomore Christian Watford following Indiana’s 85-67 loss to No. 2 Ohio State on Friday at Assembly Hall in the embedded media players below:
Update: Here’s Zach’s video of Crean’s postgame press conference: