To say that Indiana owns a storied men's basketball program is a bit of an understatement. The Hoosiers have made 35 NCAA tournament appearances, including eight trips to the Final Four, and have won five national titles. But Indiana's past and its present are nowhere near in sync.
The Hoosiers went 6-25 (1-17 in Big Ten play) last season in Coach Tom Crean's first year on the job. Crean took over after Kelvin Sampson left Indiana in a mess that ended placing the Hoosiers on NCAA probation. In year two of the Crean era, Indiana is off to a 3-3 start. The Hoosiers claimed a win Saturday over Northwestern State, which snapped a three-game losing streak Indiana suffered in the Puerto Rico Tipoff.
"Obviously, they're very young," said an assistant coach on a team that has played Indiana this season. "In a lot of ways, you've got to take this as Coach Crean's first year, just because he got the job in April (2008) and there was no team, so he had to sign all these guys late that in a normal recruiting year wouldn't be Indiana guys. And so some of them make it back and some of them don't."
This year's Indiana squad is built around three new players that have been inserted into the starting lineup: junior point guard Jeremiah Rivers, freshman shooting guard Maurice Creek and freshman power forward Christian Watford. Rivers sat out last year after transferring to Indiana from Georgetown, where he played two seasons.
One of Indiana's greatest weaknesses last season was its ball-handling. The Hoosiers averaged 5.7 more turnovers than assists per game in 2008-09. With Rivers (6-foot-5, 214 lbs.) now running the point, the Hoosiers are not as sloppy with the ball, though turnovers (16.7 per game this season) remain an issue.
Rivers is dealing with several nagging injuries heading into tomorrow night's match-up against Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. According to a report in the Indianapolis Star, Rivers has a calf injury, a shoulder injury and a sore ankle, but he is expected to play against the Terrapins. He is averaging 8.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He is shooting 36.6 percent from the field.
"His problem is he's not yet become a real finisher at the rim," the assistant coach said. "He can get by people, but then he can't make the lay-up. He winds up taking very difficult shots at the rim, and he's an average pull-up jump shooter and doesn't really look to shoot threes."
Much of the scoring load falls on the shoulders of Creek, a native of Oxon Hill, who played at Hargrave Military Academy. Creek (6-foot-5, 200 lbs.) is averaging 16.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. He is shooting 46.7 percent (14 for 30) from three-point range and 52.2 percent from the field. He also is tied for the team lead in steals with 10.
Due to Indiana's lack of size and experience in the post, Watford (6-foot-9, 220 lbs.) is playing the power forward position, though he's better suited to play small forward. Landon Milbourne surely can empathize. Watford is averaging 12.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He is shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 82.8 percent (24 for 29) from the charity stripe.
Rounding out Indiana's starting lineup are two holdovers from last year's squad: sophomore guard Verdell Jones III and sophomore forward Tom Pritchard.
Jones (6-foot-5, 183 lbs.) is averaging 12.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. He is tied with Creek for the team lead in steals with 10 and is shooting 40.6 percent from the field.
"He's a guy that looks for his own scoring, but he's not a great distributor," the assistant coach said of Jones.
Pritchard (6-foot-9, 248 lbs.) is being forced to play out of position, as well. He typically lines up at the five, when he is better suited to play the four. He's got a little more muscle on him than does Watford, and he's not afraid to bang around in the post. But that mentality sometimes leads to early foul trouble. Pritchard is averaging 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
If Pritchard does get into foul trouble, freshman Bobby Capobianco (6-foot-9, 238 lbs.) and senior Tijan Jobe (7-foot-0, 250 lbs.) are his replacements. Neither Capobianco nor Jobe have contributed much in the way of points or rebounds yet this season, but they provide Crean extra fouls if nothing else.
Freshman forward Derek Elston (6-foot-9, 220 lbs.) is Indiana's top producer off the bench. Elston is averaging 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He is shooting 59.4 percent from the field and has tallied nine steals.
As far as backcourt reserves, the Hoosiers offer senior guard Devan Dumes (6-foot-2, 192 lbs.) and freshman guard Jordan Hulls (6-foot-0, 172 lbs.). Dumes is averaging 4.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. He is shooting 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. Hulls was regarded as a pass-first point guard and a deadly three-point shooter coming out of high school. He has tallied eight assists and five turnovers in his first six collegiate games and has shot 3 of 9 from three-point range.
As a team, Indiana would like to press and run an up-tempo offense that emphasizes perimeter shooting. Whether Crean has the personnel to employ such schemes remains to be seen.
"How do we really want to play?" Crean told the Indianapolis Star following Indiana's third loss in Puerto Rico. "I'm trying to play too many guys right now. But we want to run. So are we going to all-out get after it and press more, or am I going to shrink the bench? I don't have a set rotation yet and that's something else we'll have to address."
Indiana does not appear comfortable relying too much on its man-to-man defense and has been operating frequently out of a 2-3 zone on defense. The Hoosiers aren't a great rebounding team (-0.5 rebounding margin), either.
"They're not physical or tough right now," the assistant coach said. "They're a ways away talent-wise from being competitive in the Big Ten. They're a year or two away."
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