BLOOMINGTON – Indiana tried something different, and did so for nearly 40 minutes, in its Friday win.
The Hoosiers (9-3) put on a full-court press for most of a 79-66 win over Nicholls State at Assembly Hall. And while they might not employ that strategy against Kennesaw State in today’s noon matchup, IU coach Tom Crean said he likes having the variations in tempo and defensive looks if he needs it.
We pressured more tonight than we would have pressed in practice, over the entire 52 practices and 11 games we’ve played, Crean said Friday. We’re trying to get our team to a place where we can do different things, and tonight it worked out to allow us to do that.
The home nonconference schedule for IU, which has been loaded with inferior opponents save middling matchups against Stony Brook and LIU-Brooklyn, has given the Hoosiers multiple chances to challenge their mental abilities and push their limits in the mental side of the game.
That is a big benefit for a team that has six freshmen who contribute and has just three upperclassmen – junior Austin Etherington, senior Will Sheehey and graduate transfer Evan Gordon – who see major minutes.
We just want to get after people, said sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell, who had 14 points against Nicholls State. We don’t want to let other people set the pace. We want to set the pace for the game, so getting up in them and getting to the ball is something that we’re going to work on and maybe look to do more.
This season, the Hoosiers’ ability to force opponents out of a rhythm will be crucial.
Last season’s group, the preseason No. 1 team in the country, could play one way and outplay the competition consistently. That team played fast and gave plenty of different looks, too, but it had veterans. It knew what it was doing much more than this group does.
Crean recognizes his team can’t maximize its potential if it slows down, and mistakes are magnified in a regularly paced game.
We were switching defenses, and sometimes we were good at that and sometimes we weren’t as good, Crean said. It’s all a part of giving these guys as many experiences and giving them a chance to understand how important awareness is, how important all the parts of communication are and how to do it when you’re really tired and under fatigue.
Games against bad teams do nothing to inspire the NCAA tournament selection committee, but they have given IU a chance to develop and learn from mistakes within games without much risk of getting burned. The Hoosiers certainly would have benefited from a win against then-No 19 Connecticut, then-No. 4 Syracuse or Notre Dame, but there are no opportunities to pad the nonconference résumé left.
So Crean has his players focusing on learning. He is testing their mental and physical limits, because when Big Ten play comes, there’s no way he can push them as much on a daily basis.
We’re not going to be successful if we let teams set their pace, Crean said. We have to become a deep team. We have to be able to change tempos.