March 10, 2014
Indiana head coach Tom Crean met with the media on Wednesday before the team departed for Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. He talked about what makes Illinois such a tough team and getting prepared for the Big Ten Tournament.
On a little break after having so many games close together:
"You don't put any stock into the timing of things. You just deal with it the best that you can. The schedule is the schedule, so you utilize everyday for what's most important. Everyday you're getting ready to get better by your individual improvement and by what you do to get ready for the next games. We've been able to keep our focus strong along the way."
On Illinois' defense:
"I don't think they were playing it bad to begin with. They are a very good help team. They are very much like Ohio State in the way that they create a lot of havoc and create turnovers; they get their hands on a lot of basketballs. They do a good of job of defending the elbows. The only teams that are like that are Michigan State and Ohio State. Illinois is tremendous at taking that elbow away from you. They are very smart defenders."
On Illinois controlling tempo:
"More or less. I think they have probably had some days where they haven't shot it like they would like to. Also, they've had some games where they've really gotten out and played. I think like a lot of teams in this league, they want to control the pace and sometimes the slower the better for them. But, I think they can play a lot of different ways. The bottom line is, they do a really good job of spacing the court. Kendrick Nunn is absolutely lethal in the corner right now. He's always been a good corner player. I think he's 60 percent from three over his last 5 games. They are ever improving because they have so many different guys that can score. You have to know exactly where Jon Ekey is anytime he's in the game. Joseph Bertrand can beat you from three, he can beat you on the drive, he can beat you on the offensive board. They've done a pretty good job of controlling the tempo and being opportunistic. There are times they have run more and doing even more in transition. Everything starts with the ball-screen when preparing for them because they do so much with it."
On Rayvonte Rice being a tough matchup:
"Yes, we don't have one guy that you would look at and say "That's a really good matchup for Rice." You have to be very, very good at what you are trying to take away from that player. You have to have help, but at the same time you can't over-help in this league, because so much of the winning in this league comes down to who's making shots. I think that's why there is so much parity in this league. Everyone has got shot makers - guys that can get to the rim, guys that have good two-point percentages, guys that have good three-point percentages, guys off the bench that can make shots. That's been the one type of player that we've struggled with more than any other type of player - that bigger wing that is really strong and powerful and can get to the rim."
Here are some quotes from earlier in the week from Coach Crean:
Head Coach Tom Crean talked about the Hoosiers opening the Big Ten Tournament against Illinois on today's Big Ten Weekly Teleconference. Below is a full transcript of what Coach Crean had to say.
Indiana head coach Tom Crean
"We're getting ready right now full-tilt for Illinois. We have great respect for them and really, with the exception of their game with Michigan last week, they have been playing great basketball over the last month. I don't think there's any question that they are playing with excellent confidence. Their defense is at a high level and they are really, really playing with tremendous energy. We're going to have our work cut out for us at any point in time with anybody in this league, but certainly going into this game, we have great respect for what they are doing and how they are progressing and that's where we sit."
On what Illinois is doing so well on the defensive end towards the end of the season:
"I think they are just trying to control tempo. They are much like Ohio State in that they create a lot of turnovers with the way if you're loose with the basketball. If you drive it into traffic, they make you pay for that. They are very strong defensively. They are opportunistic with their running game. The bottom line is that they are making it hard for you to get good looks and they expose you if you over-handle. And they are rebounding at a high rate. Those are the things that stand out the most to me."
On preparing your younger players for the format of the Big Ten tournament:
"I don't think you do a lot of things differently. You are really building up for these points with where their bodies are at and keeping it as fresh as possible. The most important thing is that you don't ever look ahead. It doesn't really matter what team you have going in. If you look ahead to day two, you could be done on day one and you don't want any part of that. You have to be so locked into what is in front of you.
"So everything for us is totally get ourselves better and get ready to play Illinois. Then, in the short turnaround like that, if you're successful, then you are just looking at making sure that you go back and remind your guys of certain things. The most important thing is that you get better during the week, that your individual improvement is as strong as your team improvement. You stay focused with that and that you put everything into the team that you're playing because that's what the season is like. So I don't think we'd get away from that at all no matter what time it is."
On relying on Will Sheehey to guide the team through stretch of Big Ten tournament games:
"I think you do that. But I think it's all in how you have your format. We do a lot of walk-throughs, which is really what this time of year becomes more of if you're in a tournament setting, because there's so little practice time. But certainly you want that and Will's leadership is something that they need no matter what. They need it from Yogi (Ferrell) and guys that are playing significant minutes and that have been in that situation. But the most important thing right now is that no matter what is being said, the major thing is is this team locked in to what they need to do to be better. You follow game plans. You stay locked in to the couple of different things on both ends of the court that are imperative for your team that you're playing. The most important things is that there's a strong intensity, that it's a really good environment conducive to getting better and, at the same time, that it's competitive. That's what your focus is on more than any one individual or any one aspect of it."
On what has sparked Illinois's end-of-season surge:
"I think the game at Penn State really got them in a good spot because they changed the lineup and some of the younger guys like Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill came in and did a fantastic job.
"Kendrick Nunn is playing outstanding. For a guy that people at the beginning of the Big Ten season may not have been as locked into, I think you are now. I don't think there's any question about that. But at the same time, guys like Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams, (Nnanna) Egwu, (Joseph) Bertrand, (Jon) Ekey, the leaders of their team, are playing at a pretty good level too. So I think the bottom line is they know how to win. They know what it takes to win. They know what their defense is capable of. They're getting good shots. Kendrick Nunn, with more minutes, provides just a little bit more explosiveness to their game that creates things for other people. The way he plays is he is a very, very high-energy type of player and a lot of similarities, in my mind, to Victor Oladipo. Kendrick's offense is ahead of where Victor's was at the same age. No question about it. Bottom line, they just keep improving just like everybody else in this league is trying to do."
On what has stood out with Troy Williams's offense in recent games:
"I think he is just letting the game come to him. He's attacking the basket and his footwork is good right now, which is the most important thing, because it's usually very good in practice but sometimes he gets sped up a little bit in the games. He's doing a good job without the basketball, which is really important. I think the key is that he continues to not try to take the ball into traffic and try to make something happen that's not there but to look for the ball, to move well without the ball, to use the entire court.
"He's a guy that can run the floor at a high level. He's a guy that can play out of the corners and the wings. He's getting better at handling the ball. I think that's the most important thing. He's getting better because his skill level continues to go up because of his work ethic. I think that's the one thing that's really jumped. He is spending more and more time on the court away from practice and getting better that way, which I think is really important. He's got a really good spirit and he's gaining confidence all the time and we hope it can keep up the rest of the season."
"Bottom Line is that Illinois is really good. They've had a couple tough losses like to Ohio State, and outside of the Michigan game last week, they have been really, really good ever since they went to Penn State this year. That's when they started to turn it."
"We have great respect for them and the way that they are playing. They are playing some young guys now that have the benefit of playing with the older guys, the fifth-year guys or the fourth-year guys who have been through it and they've been able to blend in.
"Kendrick Nunn has been playing with great confidence. Rayvonte Rice is averaging just under 25 points against us. I mean that can't happen. We have to guard him better. We have to do a much better job against him but at the same time they put 3-point shooters on the court. They drive the ball. They're a very good team. They're a typical Big Ten team that no one outside of the Big Ten would want to face. But their record can be misleading because they are in the Big Ten."
On season games against Illinois:
"I am not sure that we ran the way that we are capable of but I think that they had something to do with that and I don't think they were in a race horse type of mentality but they were playing faster. They are very similar to Ohio State in their half-court defense in that they attack the dribble. If you're weak with it, if you're soft with it, if you over penetrate and drive into a crowd they're going to make you pay for that. We did a pretty good job against Ohio State not allowing that to happen and we did a pretty good job against Illinois the second time not allowing that to happen. You just have to keep it very simple against them and not try to be overly creative and just play the game the right way. Right now we're a better running team then we were when we played them but again, you've got to be able to get out on the break, get defensive boards, get some turnovers and get the ball out quickly if they score so we can get our running game going."
On playing the first game of the tournament:
"There's no question that it kicks it off. We're going to have to make sure that our minds and bodies are ready roll that early morning. It'll be early morning to them for basketball, it wont be early morning for waking up."
On limiting practice time as postseason gets closer:
"I think you start that a long time ago when it comes to this time of year. We had a good strong practice today and we will have a pretty strong one tomorrow. Then it will taper back each day and we will be ready to go on Thursday.
"I think again if you start trying to taper it down right now, it's too late. I think we've got a pretty fresh team for the most part. We've changed our format this season on what we do with two-day preparation with this team, because of the youth of it, you want to make sure that they have their energy and their legs and their mental outlook on it as you go through the season. Rarely do we have two tough practices in between games.
"I'll give you an example. Thursday was 30-35 minutes of offensive improvement, maybe 40 at max, and then walking through Michigan's plays and then film. Friday was a pretty solid hour-40 type of practice with a lot of refinements and offensive improvements. We are really staying with the fact that you want your team to continue to get better as individuals, not just in a team way. They are able to make more plays and able to play with more confidence, but if they don't do that, then you will have more nights like with Nebraska, where you're not shooting at a high percentage.
"And then once you get to Indianapolis, and you're able to keep winning, there really isn't practice time anyways. It becomes more ballroom or going to a gym and walking through. Our guys have gotten pretty good with that, so we've got a pretty good handle on their energy and on their emotion and things of that nature. If you're fortunate enough to play (four games), you're going to be playing on grit and will to the end anyways."