Two days after Indiana’s disappointing loss at Illinois, Tom Crean still felt like his team had wasted a great opportunity for a conference road win. But Crean knew it was important for his team to immediately shift its focus to Sunday’s opponent, Ohio State.
The No. 1 Hoosiers practiced longer than usual on Friday and also had a lengthy team meeting to discuss what went wrong in Champaign and what needs to be improved before they take on the No. 10 Buckeyes.
“If we’re going to be good, it’s not about bouncing back, it’s about making sure that you’re getting better,” Crean said Saturday. “Because if you spend a lot of time bouncing back and worrying about your mentality, then all of a sudden that cuts into your preparation, that cuts into what you need to do to win the game. We’ve been really good with that. They were really down the other night and we knew that we had some squandered opportunities.”
In Friday’s lengthy practice and then again on Saturday, Crean used Victor Oladipo to guard Yogi Ferrell and simulate the defense of Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. There’s no doubting the fact Ohio State is a very capable offensive team, but Crean spent most of his time Saturday talking about the Buckeyes’ defense. And that starts with the pesky Craft.
“He gets into your body. He’s got quick feet, quick hands,” Crean said. “He’s extremely physical on the ball, and he gets up into you, he uses his hands very well. He’s got the respect of the officials, I think that’s certain. But his athleticism is really unique with his foot speed and his hand speed.”
Added Ferrell: “I know he’s a great defender so I can’t really play with the ball. I’ve definitely seen him get up into guys, and that’s what he’s gonna do. He’s as quick as me as well, so I might try to use my speed as an advantage, but I know he’s definitely going to want to turn the ball over.”
While Sunday afternoon figures to be a challenge for the young Ferrell, he feels prepared because of his experience dealing with Oladipo in practice on a daily basis. If he can handle Oladipo, he can also handle Craft.
“In my mind, Vic’s better,” Ferrell said. “Even as an all-around player, I think Vic’s better. He’s always down and alert on defense. He’s never getting blown by. He’s always a magnet to the ball. Vic is, in my eyes, the defensive player of the year.”
Offensively, the Buckeyes run the majority of their sets through junior Deshaun Thomas, a Fort Wayne, Ind. native. Thomas is averaging 19.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest while shooting 46 percent from the field and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
“He’s a scorer, he’s got a scorer’s mentality,” Crean said. “He’s big, he gets it off extremely quick. He can play at the post, he’s extremely dangerous in the mid-post area, in the pick and pop, driving and 3-point shooting game. He’s just an all-around scorer.”
Hoosiers know Zeller must touch it more
If you look back at the box score from Indiana’s loss to the Illini, you’ll see a pretty alarming stat: Cody Zeller attempted only six shots. Down the stretch, as Illinois got back into the game, Zeller rarely touched the ball on the offensive end.
If the Hoosiers are going to continue to be an elite team, they know they must do a better job of pounding the ball inside.
“There’s no doubt that he needs to get it more,” Crean said. “I’d say the same with Christian. Cody needs to get the ball more in the second half, but he needs to get it where he cannot only score and facilitate for others, but where there’s a lot of pressure on the opponent.”
Added Ferrell: “We’re just not making a point to get it to them. I don’t think we’ve really noticed how effective they are with the ball in the post. I’m going to try to make that a point in the game [on Sunday] to get them the ball more.”
Part of the reason Zeller wasn’t getting as many touches late in the game was other players saw openings and tried to make plays themselves. Crean said Saturday that players get a great amount of offensive freedom when playing at Indiana, but his team didn’t always make the best use of that freedom on Thursday.
“When it’s time to win the game, winning the game and the time and score situation override any of that,” Crean said. “We didn’t always do that. It wasn’t like they were bad shots, but we didn’t play time and score the way that we needed to.”
· Weathering storms: Ohio State is 4-0 at home in Big Ten play with wins against Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes’ only home loss of the year came against Kansas.
Like every Big Ten team, the Buckeyes possess the ability to go on runs when they play at Value City Arena. But Ohio State can score in bunches better than most of the teams in the conference.
“They’re as physically tough defensively as any team we will have faced to this point, and especially at home,” Crean said. “They’re a spurt team, they’re a big run team, they start really fast at home. You’ve got to weather their storms.”
· Behind the scenes distractions?: During his press conference on Saturday, Crean made mention of some “things” the Hoosiers had to deal with behind the scenes this week, but he did not elaborate. Here’s the full quote:
“We had other things behind the scenes that we had to deal with this week,” he said. “It’s just part of being with young men. They’re all 18-22 year olds, and things go on. You’ve got to be able to handle that accordingly, and once you get into the game, nobody cares. That’s where the togetherness really comes in.”