BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Indiana head men's basketball coach Tom Crean, along with junior Jordan Hulls and freshman Cody Zeller, preview the Hoosiers' game vs. Kentucky, which will be played in Assembly Hall on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 5:15 p.m. ET.
Tom Crean Opening Statement:
"Our focus and concentration has been excellent this week and I would expect nothing less from this group. They're preparing and they have been preparing well all year long. As with any other long week, we try to make sure we're focused as much on our fundamentals and improving and getting better at things that are going to help us over the long haul as well as getting ready for the short term which is always the next game. Obviously with this game there's a lot of things you have to be really good at. The bottom line is the fundamentals. You've got to be able to take care of the ball. You've got to be a very good block-out team. We've got to make the next pass. We've got to be prepared for a lot of different ways that the game could go, whether it's a grind it out game, no matter what it is. We have to make sure that we're locked in. We are not at a place like most teams that would play a team like Kentucky where you can even come close to mirroring the length and athleticism that you're going to see in the game on Saturday. The most important thing is that we just make sure that the focus and concentration and what we need to do and how we need to prepare to play that team is imperative and our guys have done a very good job of that with another day and a walkthrough of preparation left."
On not coming out too hyped up for a game like this:
"I don't think there's any way to forecast that because there is a lot of hype. There is going to be a lot of energy in the building. This is a very caring group. They care about how they play and they care about each other. They want to do well. There are still a lot of relatively very young guys that will be in an environment like that. Victor Oladipo had five turnovers last year. Will Sheehey played five minutes. Those are two key contributors to us. Cody (Zeller), Austin (Etherington), and Remy (Abell) have not been in the environment, it won't be the last time they're in an environment like this, but it will be the first thing. The closest they had was maybe the Butler environment with the intensity and energy of the crowd and I think this one will probably go above and beyond that. As long as we're focused on what we're trying to do, it's not like we can have some magic words to calm them down. I would want guys excited to play and we just have to play, the key is that we stay true to the game, which is fundamentals, discipline, execution, energy, all those kinds of things and not get out of character. That's what you worry about the most in any type of situation that's relatively new for a group like it is for this one, but it's going to be different for them too. It's their first road game, true road game. It's going to be a matter of the team that makes the fewest mistakes."
On the attack against a team with Kentucky's length:
"You have to attack very smart. There are certain things that go into that, but to think that it's going to be conventional basketball and we're just going to go up and shoot it over top of this team. That's not realistic and hopefully our guys are astute enough to understand that and they have to be because we don't want to be a in a situation where we're just allowing them to play volleyball with the basketball, whether it's on the backboards or whether it's with the blocked shots. That's, again, where fundamentals, execution, next pass, kick-outs, drop-offs, every one of those things is crucial. This is not a game where you can ever think that you're going to take hero shots and that it's going to work out for you. You've got to make the next pass and if you do that and our team is fairly cerebral, we have some instinctive guys and they've been moving the ball really well.
"This is also not a game where we can't have a half where we come in a say okay we just missed seven layups. We can't have that. We've had some of that this year then we've regrouped. You've got to take advantage of your opportunities because again, it goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, the margin for error when you're playing a team with this kind of athleticism and length is really tight so you've got to make sure you're doing the right things."
On the concern with offensive rebounding:
"It's been the key to the games the last couple of years. There's no doubt about it. Our lack of rebounding and our lack of free throw attempts versus their numerous free throw attempts and second chance points and things of that nature. There's no question taking care of the basketball, but also fighting on the backboards are the keys to the game, without a doubt. Everything else is in there and everything else is important, but there are no two things more important than that."
On considering a different defensive approach to counter Kentucky's quickness:
"We consider a lot of things. We have a lot of things in the bag that we would be capable of using. Again, most of those things go on feel, with how the game is going, where our shots are coming from, where their shots are coming from. There's no question we can be a better rebounding team and we've shown at times where we can get better rebounding it in the game, especially in the N.C. State game. But this is a whole different deal here. This length and athleticism is in a whole other level and we haven't played anybody with that yet. Certainly we have a lot of athletic teams and tough teams and physical teams, people like that that we'll see as the season goes on and as the Big Ten gets started. But there's nobody that combines this type of length, athleticism, and explosiveness all at once."
On the importance of outside shots falling early in the game:
"I think it's important that you get good shots. I haven't been too hung up all year long if we're missing shots as long as they're good shots. Even in the Butler game, the whole message at halftime is let's just keep having positive energy, we're just missing some shots we make. When you're getting shots that you make and they're not necessarily going in, that's a lot easier to deal with and you know that it's just a matter of time before it corrects itself. But when you're taking challenged shots or you're not making the next pass, that's where you've got to get it figured out quickly. The bottom line is if we're getting good shots, the bottom line is we've got good enough shooters where we're going to make those. Again, the thing that there's just no way to duplicate this and this is one thing that makes (Anthony) Davis such a special player is, if there's a mistake made defensively, he can make up for it like maybe nobody else I've seen and I know the season's early and I haven't watched everybody play at all. I haven't watched that many teams at all play I guess, but I can't think of anybody that can make up for mistakes that his teammates might make, whether they go for a steal or they gamble, to cover the ground that he covers, it's amazing. (Terrence) Jones is a much improved defender. He seems to be playing the game at a high level in all facets so I think he's done a great job improving. The rest of them are long and athletic and we haven't even talked about (Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist, who's probably the main energy source for their team so you've got to make sure that that next pass is there. We don't want to be living on challenged shots."
On being more prepared with some key players having some experience:
"I think it comes into the week. I think it comes into how that concentration and focus is, as you lead up to it. They're well aware of the vibe of this game and the buzz. They're well aware that people were camping outside, I mean they know that. That's not what they're focused on when they're in practice and when we go to the films. They've been this way all year so it's not like it's just all of a sudden the last couple weeks, last couple days, they've been this way. It doesn't mean we always play well, but we've been really locked in and focused. That's a huge part of the maturity process, there's no doubt."
On how he remembers playing No. 1 Kentucky in previous head coaching position:
"I remember we got them down 24 points, that's what I remember. Our guys were so focused. I was recruiting the other night in Milwaukee and 4 of my former players came over and a couple of them that were on that team. It was so much about our mindset, which is what a game like this has got to be. They had won 26 straight games and had been behind all of 11 seconds inside of those 26 straight wins. Our practice the day between the Pittsburgh game and the Kentucky game was so good. Dwayne Wade took 3 charges in an hour and a half practice. We had two guys go for loose balls that took out basically eight or nine chairs. I know a couple of them had to be replaced. That's what I remember. It was so much about what our mindset was going to be like to play that game. There again, you had a very short period of time to prepare, you play on a Thursday, and you go back to the hotel and you're getting locked into the game and then it's Friday and then all of the sudden there's Saturday afternoon. We didn't have a lot of time to get through everything. We had to make sure that our mentality was right. Our guys, we got down, and we were kind of letting them do what they wanted to do, we locked in defensively, we started to make shots and it just snowballed. It was a fantastic win."
On whether this is the first time he doesn't feel like a huge underdog:
"I've never felt like that. We've always felt like, even though the talent difference has been great, there's always a game plan and you always believe in it. I mean last year it was 58-57 or 57-56 at one point inside of that game. If you don't believe that you can win, in some point in time your players are going to not believe they can win either, and we've never felt like that. Even going into the first year, knowing what it was like and going into that environment and being down so much, we knew we had to play a very good game, but you have to believe you can win. We're bridging the gap, so to speak. We can't mirror the length, we're getting closer to being able to mirror the length, but we're not there yet. Again, it just continues to be, we better stay in character. If we deviate and we get lulled into a game that we don't want to play, and they want to play it, we have no chance.
"It's still about how do we do the best job with what we have and at the same time try to negate some of that talent and athleticism that they have. That's what the whole trick is. But again, it doesn't matter who your team is, it doesn't matter how talented they are, if you start thinking that you can take chances and not take care of the ball, if you start thinking you're going beat these guys in a jumping contest for balls, you've got no chance. We've learned the hard way a couple times with that the last couple years."
On whether they will try to control the pace:
"We very well might. This may very well have to turn into a grind-it-out game, there's no question. We've got to make sure that we are taking care of the basketball."
On whether they are a tougher team now that Marcus Teague has adjusted to this level:
"I think the thing that separates them right now is their defense. I've always felt that John doesn't get nearly enough credit as a coach for his defense. I felt like that when I was at Marquette and he was at Memphis. They've always been so good defensively. He's always got a game plan. He always has different things that he can go to. He does a great job with getting talent to play really, really hard. This is the best defensive team, in my opinion, that he has had in his time because of the fact that they have so much length that they can make up for mistakes. They can be out of position then all of the sudden they're not out of position anymore, and that's a real treat to have that as a coach. We've got to make sure that we don't get caught in that trap, they're really, really good defensively. Really good."
On the line of students camping out on Tuesday:
"I was gone recruiting when it started, so I was really excited. I went out there yesterday, but I think the school made the right decision. When I went out there yesterday afternoon, and it was cold, and I'm only out there for a few minutes, and I'm starting to think `now these guys are going to be out here a long time'. I didn't feel good about that. I was in practice, our office was involved in that, I wasn't involved at all. I just appreciate the way that they came out. I think that that was a great message on how the school athletic department is handling this. When those kids got there early, letting them have the ability to get into that game. The next thing I think is if it's going to be 7:15 in the morning let's make sure that there's enough for them to do that people are out there paying attention to them. That they can get space heaters out there and I'm even hoping maybe that we put up not a tent, where certainly I understand that where people can't stay in a tent, but where there's something that shields the wind. You think about where this happens at Duke, well we don't have Duke weather, it's a little different. You want to make sure that these kids, these young people, that you really appreciate their passion but you want them to be safe. It's hard to make sure that your kids are responsible for being in all their classes and in school and yet they can look out and see some people and just might not be in class that day. We don't want to do anything that might affect the GPA overall at Indiana either."
Junior Jordan Hulls On the team being more mature in handling a game like this:
"I would say we have come a long way over the past couple years. But even two years ago, we prepared the same way with the same intensity. This is a different team and a new year and we feel good about what is going on and we are working hard in practice every day. Yes, we are more mature than my freshman year."
On how the energy on campus can be felt:
"Yes, everyone is real pumped up for the game of course. They are ranked No. 1 in the country and are coming into our hometown so people are really excited about it. But it is just a basketball game and we are really excited to get this going. It is going to be a fun atmosphere for sure and we are really excited about the fans and their support."
On preparing for the excitement for this game and keeping it in check:
"We are preparing for this game as we have every other game. As far as the fanbase, everyone on campus is buzzing a little bit. But we are mature enough to keep our composure and take it one game at a time."
On having a week to prepare for the game:
"Having a week, we have more time to prepare. As far as handling the hype, everyone is coming up to us and saying `good luck on Saturday' and things like that. I don't know than if it is any different if we only had two days to prepare. But like I said, the atmosphere on campus is great but we have to stay mature and composed about it."
Since both Hulls and Zeller were Mr. Basketball in Indiana, does that add to the rivalry for them?
On playing a team with the length and athleticism of Kentucky:
"I think the biggest thing is just doing what we have been doing all year - move the ball really well. We need to let our defense create our offense and not the other way around. That is something we are going to have to do. But they are very long and very active so we are going to have to take care of the ball. That is going to be a huge part of it - not letting them get easy fastbreak points. But we have been preparing for that and dealing with their length."
On how the previous games against Kentucky help the team:
"I think its huge. The atmosphere has been the same every year. So being able to hang with those guys is good. We had a lot of chances but we didn't execute some things and that led to us losing. But if we do the things that we are capable of doing and having the will to prepare - which is what we have now - I think we will be in good shape."
On Marquis Teague and forcing turnovers:
"Like I said, we just have to keep doing what we have been doing all year - get deflections and have constant pressure with our hands all over the ball. If we do that and play team defense and play help-side defense and not let him get in the lane because he is really good at throwing lobs and things like that. We have to keep that to a minimum and let our on-ball pressure create our offense for us."
Freshman Cody Zeller Since both Hulls and Zeller were Mr. Basketball in Indiana, does that add to the rivalry for them?
"Not so much. The Indiana-Kentucky Senior All-Star game is what it is - an all-star game to show off talent. This is a game with two college programs that have a long history and I don't think there are too many similarities (between Saturday's game and the all-star games) other than two teams with great players."
On matching up against UK's Anthony Davis:
"He is definitely a great player. I played against him quite a bit in the summer last year. But I have played against a lot of good players already this year - guys like Andrew Smith (Butler) and North Carolina had a few good guys inside. I think each game I am just trying to improve and this will just be another step for that."
On talking to his brother Tyler (senior at North Carolina) about playing Kentucky:
"Not too much. We don't talk about specifics too much."
Will you talk to him before Saturday?
"I don't know. I didn't really want to talk to him after (UNC played UK), he was a little down. But we don't talk specifics too much."
On playing the No. 1 team in the country in your home building:
"I'll tell you after the game on Saturday. I have never experienced it so we are just going to prepare for it like any other game. The fans are excited but inside the locker room and on the practice court we are going to prepare just like any other game."
On playing against some of the Kentucky players in AAU:
"I have played against Davis in the summer quite a bit. A lot of them I have played against in camps, even some of the guys that are older. All of them have improved so much since last summer, as well as myself and the other guys in our locker room. So we just need another good week of preparation because a lot of things have changed since I have played them."