BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Indiana head men's basketball coach Tom Crean, along with junior Jordan Hulls and sophomore Victor Oladipo, preview the Hoosiers' game vs. UMBC, which will be in Assembly Hall on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 6 p.m. ET.
Head Coach Tom Crean
"I think our guys have continued to show that they're locked in, that their focus is really strong and I'm very proud of them for that because practice has a lot of energy. It's got an edge to it. There's a real workman-like, business-like attitude with the way that they come in there and work to improve, so I'm happy with all that. Tomorrow night, we're going to go against a team that's an outstanding offensive rebounding team. They had 31 offensive rebounds in a game already this year. They can really shoot the ball. They have an excellent shooter in (Brian Neller) that can really shoot it. They've got a go-to-guy in the post. It's going to be a team that, again, we just have to come out and establish how we're going to play. That's what our guys did the other night and I think that's the most important thing and that's what we've been focused on."
On things to improve on:
"We haven't spent a lot of time on correcting as much as just trying to get better with it. There are certain things that we see as far as offensive moves, defensive rotations, things with the zone and things of that nature, but really more than anything else it's just about playing with energy and making sure that we're moving the ball the way that we did and continuing to not think that we're going to become a team that's going to try to go one-on-one or a team that's going to try to hold the ball, just continue to move it and seeing the value of it."
On the biggest keys to being as consistent as this team has been:
"I think they're maturing. It's a very underrated concept and I know I use that term a lot, but I think it's when you have practices like we have now. That's why it's so important. Their focus has been really good. They want to get better. I think the team unity has been very, very strong and I think that has a lot to do with it. We haven't had bad practices, and I think when you don't have bad practices and you have guys that are continuing to get better, you've got a chance to improve even inside of the games and I think that's been a big part of it. Every game there's been a period or two where things had to change and when they got the momentum they kept it, and I think that's really important, but there are a lot of things that they can continue to get better at, but we'll assess that over Christmas break a little bit. We self scout all the time, but we'll do even more of it the next couple of days because we're trying to get our preparations ready in house, not with the team, but for the upcoming games after the break. I think this team has just continued to improve."
On an increase of player-led workouts and practices:
"We've been seeing that since the spring, so I think that's what has really been good. It's just been a carryover. They want to improve, and they're not afraid to have tough practices, and they respond to challenges. And, again, it's that team unity. Today they were very, very good at correcting others. If a guy didn't draw a charge there might have been eight or nine of them stepping up and saying something. That's when you know they're really locked in, and I think that's important. There's not a disrespect or they don't get agitated, as much as they don't tolerate a lot of mistakes, and I think that's why it's important, as I told them they don't come in here and try to trick each other. They just come in and they keep getting better, and I think that's really important especially as you go up the ladder."
On what he saw in Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey during their recruitment:
"Excellent, excellent people, and we knew Victor longer than we knew Will, but people that are around them that we trusted. High level of athleticism, edge, guys that have a little edge to them, which I think is really, really important. They had won. All of those things really played into it and again, I've said this so many times here, if we were going by recruiting rankings we would have never signed Dwyane Wade back at Marquette.
"I think it's important that you see where guys stack up against others, but I don't think it's what you base your decisions on. I think it's just part of the process. I think figuring out who really fits and who's got those attributes, who has a high level of athletic upside, who's got intelligence, who's got character, and who has a competitive mindset and to me, that's where that edge comes in. You want guys that have been maybe overlooked or underrated, not invited to this or that, because the last thing you want in recruiting and it's so hard, but you have to just make sure that you're not getting entitled, enabled people and we've all done that too, but entitled, enabled people get you beat, big time. So you want to try to stay away from that as much as possible and sometimes you've got to peel the onion back and really look at the layers a little bit to see what's really true, what's not, and then make your own decision accordingly."
On the key to the consistent 3-point shooting:
"I think we have good shooters and spacing. These guys spend a lot of time shooting the ball. They're open to their technique being corrected and we get a lot of reps. Cook Hall is a part of that, I don't think there's any question when you have the ability to come back in for that. I think the fact that we have so many different guys that can shoot the ball. There's a respect level of making the next pass so I think that's part of it. I think you're going to see Cody Zeller making shots that you haven't seen him make yet because he's got it in him. It just becomes a comfort level thing. We spend a lot of time at that part of it, but I think that's the development part of it, of really making it crucial in your practices, but them spending a lot of time on it on their own."
On if this is the toughest defensive mindset for a team he has coached:
"No and I wouldn't go back and compare it, but no. It's moving forward, but there's no question we can get better defensively. We got a lot better defensively from the Kentucky game to the Notre Dame game. There's a lot of room for improvement. Team defense covers so many areas. It's your on-the-ball, it's your weak-side rotations. We try to stay as fundamental as we can, like even today, just a lot of shell drill defense, so no, we're not anywhere near that yet."
On what has improved defensively throughout the season:
"I think, even though it's been fairly consistent, not incredibly consistent, our help-side defense, but our transition defense has been much better. Our activity, our ball pressure and the deflections. Now this team has a chance to be the best deflection team I've ever coached, but we've got to keep that up. They've got very good activity and again, I think our defense, just like our offense, we've got to get our depth to where there's really not much of a drop-off when we go to the bench, in the sense of there may be a difference in talent level but there can't be a difference in execution and effort level and I think those things are important. Our post defense is getting better. We've been a lot better about not fouling as much, so all those things have definitely improved."
On experimenting with different defenses in the future:
"It's not as much of an experiment as it is things that are in the bag. There will definitely be things that we'll add this season, but I wouldn't try it in a game. Those are all things we've done. As far as adding things, we had things added for Kentucky that we never went to. As far as adding things, I would never put something out in a game just to throw it out there and give it away. I would save it for practice and then try to use it inside of a game somewhere, but there will definitely be things that we'll add, but again, our defenses all start by the fundamentals of them and how good the shell defense is and how good the rotations are and all those kind of things."
On the depth being further along than in previous seasons:
"There's no question about that, but where it needs to be to compete at the highest level, that's where we've got to get better and there's no question, but again, it's 11 games in with 12 coming tomorrow night. There's a lot of room for improvement, I mean there's a lot of room for improvement and I think we're getting better, but there's room for improvement in so many areas. What's happening is we're really getting a good feel for who is bringing what to the table, so if certain things aren't there you can really see it. You really can tell when a guy isn't as locked in as he needs to be defensively based on the way he's coming across screens, is he standing up on the weak-side, is he hugged up, is he behind the man rather than up and above him anticipating. The thing to me that shows focus and upside for where you can get better is how alert and aware you are, but that's where our depth has got to continue to do that."
On the importance of having the full attention of players during break:
"I think it's harder this time of year. I think it's harder when they have less to do. Body rhythms change, body clocks. It'll get even harder when they come back. I know some coaches like the whole aspect of two-a-days and three-a-days, and I've been down that road before, but I'm not that big on that. I'm not big on consuming their time just for the sake of consuming it. It's hard to get in a rhythm right now and then go away for Christmas, and I'm glad we're doing it because I thought it was just terrible last year that we didn't get a break for Christmas, but there's always more to life than our jobs and their responsibilities in basketball. I think what you want is when they're here you want them to be absolutely locked in 100 percent to what they're doing and even when they're away they're talking about it. They might not be quizzing each other over the scouting report or drawing up plays in their apartment, but if they're talking about it that's really good. You want them to anticipate and be anxious and excited about getting to the gym so those things are important.
"I've changed my belief on that. When I read about coaches going two-a-days and three-a-days, and four-a-days constantly, I'm not into that. Now we'll come back tonight and we'll shoot free throws and we'll go over the scouting report and film just like we're going to do right now. I'm sure we'll do two-a-days a little bit when we come right back just because we'll have to get our conditioning to where it needs to be again. I want them to have a normal life, too. I think it's better for them and they're more focused when they get here."
Junior Jordan Hulls On facing UMBC:
"They are a tough, physical team who like to offensive rebound, so we've got to do a good job of keeping them off of the glass. They've got guys who can shoot the ball from the outside and some big post players, as well. Like always, we've just got to attack the game defensively and create on offense."
On staying focused on one game at a time with the break and Big Ten play coming up:
"No one has been distracted. It is the holiday season and there is a lot to look forward too, but we're really focused on taking it one game at a time and everyone on the team has done a really good job of that. We've had really good practices this week leading up to this game."
On playing the last non-conference game before Big Ten play:
"We're just attacking it like any other game. We've got to come in prepared and get the scout down, get their personnel down and just attack the game like always - create turnovers, hit the open man, play through Cody (Zeller), feed the big guys through the post and be unselfish with the ball. We've just got to play our game."
On what the team has built on through the season:
"I'd say our defensive approach. We've been good defensively all year, but each game, I feel like we go through adversity, but we always end up playing a lot better defense whether it's in the second half or the first half. I feel like our mindset is a whole lot better as the season has gone on. That's just another sign of maturity and then creating our offense off of our defense."
Sophomore Victor Oladipo
On Cody Zeller:
"I think he gets better every day. He comes in and he works hard. He knows that he can improve on little aspects of his game and he's doing that every day."
On what it would be mean to get to 12-0 heading into Big Ten play:
"It would mean a lot. We just need to continue to take one game at a time, take it slowly attacking every opponent the same way, and do whatever the coaches say in the scout and watching film. Doing that every game has been successful for us. We're just going to continue to keep doing that and working hard."
On being able to be more aggressive with more of a post presence:
"(Cody) is a shot blocker and he's very active down there, so knowing that I've got someone back there that can clean me up if I get beat a little bit gives me more confidence on the ball. It gives me more of an opportunity to pressure the ball more and improve my ball handling."
On having the same starting five throughout the season:
"It just helps us have more chemistry. We really don't have a solidified starting five; we have a lot of players that are capable of starting. We are very confident that they will have the same chemistry. We're going to be able to still run our plays and still execute on the defensive end, so I don't think it would be a big drop off if someone else starts or if we have same starting five throughout conference play."