For a program that was facing NCAA sanctions just a few years ago, the Indiana men’s basketball team has seen a quick turnaround under head coach Tom Crean.
Crean took a 6-25 team in 2008 and has created a national-title contender. The Hoosiers entered the season ranked No. 1, led by preseason player of the year Cody Zeller, but are currently ranked third with a 19-2 record.
Saturday, ESPN’s College GameDay comes to Bloomington for Indiana’s biggest game of the year — a primetime matchup with No. 1 Michigan.
The Daily got the chance to sit down with the Indiana coach at Big Ten Media Day in October.
The Michigan Daily: How are you and the players going to handle the hype the team is getting?
Tom Crean: I think you’re always trying to get your team in the toughest place and how they keep growing in that area. We worked really hard at that physical strength, and when you’re getting the physical strength, there’s a certain amount of mental preparedness that comes with that. Then in practice, it’s how you use it, how you’re mentally prepared, how you deal with challenges, adversity, tough days. We try to create a lot of situations in practice, knowing that those situations will play themselves out in games. That’s the focus — how is everybody going to get better? We wouldn’t be in this situation if we didn’t have that approach.
TMD: This is the first time since your stint at Marquette that you’ve had depth on your team. Assuming everybody’s healthy so you’re full and ready to go, have you ever had this kind of challenge about rotating players?
TC: I’m really not concerned about that. That’s an on-paper challenge. Is there a certain understanding that the quality of (the players’) minutes is going to be more important than the quantity? Absolutely. To me, if you’re going to try to get up and down the court, try to do more things defensively, try to bring fatigue to the game, then you’ve got to have numerous players that are going to play. You don’t have depth just because you have numbers, you have depth because you have consistency. If that consistency stays intact, then you have a chance to have a deep team.
TMD: The teams at the top of the conference usually have great assist-to-turnover ratios, and in the past, defense has been an issue for your team. How are you going to prepare and adjust for the better teams in the Big Ten, especially on defense?
TC: (Teams in the conference) don’t play that fast (on offense), and pace is really important in this league. Pace is important to us, too. If you’re going to be a great team, you’re going to have to win a lot of different ways. You’re going to have to win your way, you’re going to have to win the opponent’s way. If you have a deep team that’s consistent, then you’ve got a chance to play the way you want to play. You’re not going to spend a lot of time in this league turning people over.
TMD: Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State all tied for the Big Ten Championship last year and it came down to the last game of the season to decide the champion. How tough do you think the conference will be this season?
TC: I don’t think it’ll ever come down to one game. Those are the champions, and people have to unseat them. It’s really easy to throw accolades to other programs and make projections, but those were the championship-level teams. To me, that speaks volumes about the league. If we want to do some great things, those are the teams we have to beat on a consistent basis.
TMD: Cody (Zeller) is one of those exceptional players in college right now. How do you feel about his decision to come back to play his sophomore season?
TC: My greatest example (of a player like him) is Andrew Luck. He’s got an Andrew Luck-type of future, I think, especially when it comes to decision-making. When the decision is right for him, then it’ll be right for him. I don’t think anybody will dictate that. I think he enjoys college, he’s doing a great job academically, he loves his teammates, and we’re fortunate to have him.