BLOOMINGTON — Indiana coach Tom Crean said the constant changes in his lineup, the amoeba-like defense he ran and the sudden full-court press that stretched the length of the game Friday were all part of the plan.
It wasn't always pretty, but Crean had no illusions that his team's 79-66 win over Nicholls State at Assembly Hall would be. He wanted the Hoosiers (9-3) to try some new things and work with some new concepts.
That resulted in a lot of mistakes. It could also result in some growth.
"We wanted to bring tempo and pace to the game, and I thought our guys did a good job of adjusting on defense, of doing things that we don't normally do throughout the game," Crean said. "Any time you have a situation like that, it's not going to be as smooth, but it certainly gives us something to work with, to build on. And the most important thing tonight was to bring pace to the game, no matter what the other team wanted to do."
IU did that, with 68 possessions despite a slow-paced offensive approach from the Colonels (3-6).
This is not a free pass. A season-high 20 turnovers against one of the worst teams in the country is unacceptable. A team that is 321st among 351 Division I teams in offensive and defensive efficiency shot 52.8 percent from the field and outscored IU 44-42 in the second half.
IU shot 62.5 percent from the floor in that half.
There were a ton of red flags in this game, and fans should be concerned with Big Ten play just one cupcake opponent away.
But there is some merit to what Crean said and what he did Friday. IU is looking for what works. It's testing its depth and working its way toward a system. So although Nicholls State made it much more of a game than it should have been, that is to be expected.
The Hoosiers went outside their comfort zone Friday. This group had never pressed in a game. It had never run the 1-3-1 it went with or the box-and-one it tried out. It pushed the ball more than it has in previous games and tried to force the action — which, as expected, had its pros and cons for a young team.
"We mixed it up defensively," said sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell, who scored 14 points. "Played a lot of guys, so we were just trying really to get up and get after them and go to exhaustion, play as hard as you can until you get a sub in."
They played 18, actually, and 12 of those players logged more than five minutes.
"Those guys need to come in and play as hard as they can and give certain guys breaks and whatnot," said senior forward Will Sheehey, who also had 14 points. "Everyone has to be ready to play."
Through all the discontinuity, mistakes and sloppiness, there's a lesson for IU. Crean is pushing this team's limits on the mental side of the game with just one nonconference game remaining.
It's hard to say whether the Hoosiers are going to look more like the team that played then-No. 18 Connecticut to within one point or the one that showed up Friday. But Sunday is the last shot at a tune-up before the Big Ten.
Expect Crean, as he did Friday, to use that as a chance to try some new things — and, perhaps, figure out what works.
"We made progress tonight," he said. "Our mission was to play really hard, bring pace to the game without pacing ourselves, and I thought we did a good job of that."