Crean asks for “Kentucky-like” atmosphere for Ohio State

Covering the women’s game tonight, so there won’t be a blog separate from the newspaper preview for tomorrow’s game. It follows.

 

Tom Crean didn’t want his team to take its first loss of the 2011-12 season in stride.  The Indiana coach wanted it to shock the Hoosiers’ systems a little, and get them disturbed to just the right degree.

It had exactly the effect he wanted, he said.

The No. 13 Hoosiers watched the video of Wednesday’s 80-65 loss at Michigan State and then prepared for today’s 6 p.m. game against No. 2 Ohio State at Assembly Hall with renewed intensity and hunger, Crean said. They were upset at their own mistakes at East Lansing and locked in to figuring out what it would take to beat the consensus favorite in the Big Ten.

“They’re on edge,” Crean said Friday. “They’re edgy, and that’s exactly what you want them to be. They’re highly competitive. There’s nothing care-free about them. They’re confident in the sense of how they can come back, but they watched that film with a very hard-core eye. They really did, and I don’t think there was a lot of rationalization going on. I think they looked in there and saw what they could do better, and they wanted to learn.”

And they understood, they said, that for all the national attention they gained for their 12-0 start, which included the seismic upset of then No. 1 Kentucky, they could just as easily have it all turn on them if they allow this loss to turn into a lengthy slump at the beginning of conference play.

“It was a rude awakening for us at Michigan State,” senior guard Verdell Jones said. “I think we definitely got our edge back. We’re hungry more than ever. We want to prove to people that we’re for real, that the non-conference wasn’t a fluke, that we’re really going to get back after it. We really got after each other the last couple of days.”

They could certainly prove a lot with a win over Ohio State. A victory over the Buckeyes would give the Hoosiers wins over the No. 1 and No. 2 team in the nation for the first time in school history. Indiana has only played teams in both of those positions in a season once, losing to No. 1 Kentucky but beating No. 2 Notre Dame in the 1977-78 season.

But Crean said beating the Buckeyes might be even harder than knocking off the No. 3 Wildcats was and will require the same super-charged intensity at Assembly Hall. Though school is not in session, Indiana announced Friday that the game is sold out.

“The only team I can compare them to would certainly be Kentucky,” Crean said. “The only difference is that Ohio State has more experience. It’s very, very similar. … We need a Kentucky-level atmosphere in here. The Butler atmosphere was tremendous, but the Kentucky one was at another level. The seats are sold, but we just need the energy level to match that.”

Of course, more tangibly, the Hoosiers need a way to defend one of the nation’s most diverse offensive attacks.

Any discussion of Ohio State starts with sophomore center Jared Sullinger, who surprised many by returning this season after earning All-America and consensus National Freshman of the Year honors as a freshman. The 6-foot-9, 280-pounder is widely considered the best post player in the nation and is averaging 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game so far this season while shooting 59.1 percent from the field.

“His game is built on two feet in the paint,” Crean said. “He can step out and shoot 3’s. He made one again the other night. he’s getting better on the perimeter, you can see that. He rebounds the ball, but his game is truly built on having two feet in the paint. You just cannot allow him to have the set-up space that he wants and needs.”

There’s no play more critical to the Buckeyes’ success. They are 13-1 this year and their only loss came when Sullinger sat out their game at Kansas on Dec. 10 with back spasms. But what makes them a national title contender, Crean said, is that they have three other players that can be the focal point of their offense at a given point in time.

Senior swingman WIlliam Buford leads the team in scoring with 16.6 points per game and can score off the drive and from beyond the arc, leading the team with 24 3-pointers. Sophomore forward DeShaun Thomas is similarly versatile, with a 6-foot-7, 225-pound frame and shooting touch that make him a major matchup problem. The Fort Wayne Bishop Luers graduate and 2010 Indiana Mr. Basketball is averaging 15.9 points per game.

Meanwhile, sophomore point guard Aaron Craft is one of the best ball distributors and perimeter defenders in the Big Ten.  He’s second in the Big Ten in assists with 5.4 per game and leads the conference in assists with 2.7 per game.

“They’re a unique team,” Crean said. “Aaron Craft really runs the team. You can see that. He runs the show. But they can play through Sullinger down low. They can play through Buford on the perimeter and they can play for DeShaun Thomas basically about anywhere. He can be in the post. He can be in the high post. He can be on the wing. When you’ve got numerous trigger points of your offense like that that can trigger the actions the way those guys can, that makes it hard.”

It would make it harder if Indiana sophomore swingman Will Sheehey is unavailable. The 6-foot-6, 200-pounder can defend on the perimeter or in the paint and is averaging 10.7 points per game. He rolled his left ankle in practice on Dec. 21 and has missed the Hoosiers last two games. Crean said his status is still a “day-by-day situation,” and that he isn’t sure whether he will be available or not tomorrow.

With Sheehey out, Crean said the Hoosiers will need a big night from senior forward Tom Pritchard, a 6-foot-9, 245-pounder who represents the closest match Indiana has in terms of frame to the wide-bodied Sullinger. They also need a better performance against a physical opponent from freshman forward Cody Zeller than they got against him against the physical Michigan State front line. Zeller, who still leads the team with 14.2 points per game, scored just four points on 2-for-5 shooting Wednesday.

“It’s a very physical league,” Crean said. “I think what he has to understand and will understand as much as anything else because he hasn’t gone against that kind of size and strength is the game is about leverage. It’s not necessarily about strength it’s about leverage. He’s gotta continue to play with his lower body.”

Something Crean hopes he gained from those particularly edgy film sessions.

AUDIO: Tom Crean Part 1

AUDIO: Tom Crean Part 2

AUDIO: Verdell Jones and Matt Roth