Tom Crean from this morning’s Big Ten teleconference.
“We’re excited about our week. We’re happy with the way that we played yesterday, certainly defensively. We moved the ball at a high rate. We played against a hungry team and we were able to to match their energy and emotion early on and get our game going, and it was a great road victory for us. But we know that this week, starting tomorrow against Michigan State, just continues to get even more challenging. We’re excited to a part of it; we’re excited to play against a team that’s as good as Michigan State. They really seem to be clicking on all cylinders and right now when I watch them play, their infamous war drill come to life every game. That’s how they play. It all comes down to the rebounding and the running and all of the things that they do really, really well – you have to be able to match that throughout the game. They are certainly a worthy champion in the way that they have played the conference season, so we know that we’ve got our work cut out for us all week starting tomorrow night.”
On working with Jud Heathcote:
“I was with him a short period of time, but before that I was able to be a fan of his and really follow it growing up in the state of Michigan. I enjoyed it a great deal. I was part of a great staff with Tom Izzo, Jim Boylen and Herb Williams, and certainly Judd was the leader in every stretch of the imagination. I think the thing that stands out for me most about him, it’s not the stories and jokes, even though those are great, it’s the fact that he was as fundamentally driven as a coach as you could possible imagine. The way that he got the most out of players by demanding that they execute the detailed play at a very high level every day. That’s what I remember so much about that.”
On Michigan State last season compared to this season:
“This team is really good for it’s own reasons, in a sense that they are a tremendously capable passing team. I think every body they put on the floor can score, and they can also pass. I think one of the great separators for them right now, nationally, is how their big men pass the ball. They bring the war drill to life every time they play with the aggressiveness on the backboard and with the way they move the ball, with the way that they defend. They are one of the best teams in the country – there’s not doubt about it.”
On the Big Ten being one of the best conferences:
“I think it’s real easy to get caught up in league records when you’re in the heart of the matter like every body is right now, when you’re inside of the big picture. This league is the way it is for a reason. It’s been that way from the beginning. You’ve got so many good teams. I think the way it’s played out, at the least the last couple weeks it has, on any given night a team could win. There’s star-power, there’s veterans, there’s great coaching, there’s role players, there’s everything. When you’re right in the middle of it like we all are, there’s great appreciation for what we have to deal with, day-in and day-out. We have so many good teams, it’s really easy to lump them all together and that’s not really fair either. Every team is special for it’s own reason and at the end of the day it makes up an incredible conference.”
On the advantages and disadvantages of having a tough conference heading into the NCAA Tournament:
“Everybody has their own situation. There’s a unique situation to every team that’s in this league. I think the bottom line is that when you look at the non-conference records of the league, everybody is adaptable and I think that’s what bears out in a tournament setting. You’ve got teams that are really, really strong in what they do and that they’re going to play that way. A lot of times, they are going to make the opponent adjust to them. But at the same time, whether it’s a fast-paced team, whether it’s a big team, whether it’s a guard-oriented team – the teams in this league are good enough to deal with all of that and I hope that it all bears out because this league deserves to have credit every day for what it does.”
On Michigan State:
“They pass the ball extremely well and I think the difference with them from the beginning of the season or the beginning of the Big Ten is how much that’s a big part of their offense. Now Draymond Green is really a part of every possession in numerous ways. When your best player is a great facilitator like he is, and then you’ve got Keith Appling that has got the speed and quickness, but also the ability to make the next play the way that he does and to continue the way that he does. They’re unique. They don’t take possessions off. In the eye of the storm, it doesn’t matter what the situation is, they always believe that they are going to win it. That’s what I see.”
On what Cody Zeller learned from the first meeting with Michigan State:
“I think he learned a ton and I think it showed up in that next game against Ohio State. Cody’s unique in that I’ve never been around a freshman like him that is so good at impacting the game from so many different ways. Yesterday (against Minnesota) was a great example. He doesn’t have a great scoring or rebounding game, but when you watch the film and you watch how he affects the game with help defense, with his deflections, with his activity, with his running, with his passing, with him being just a presence on the floor – that’s a strong statement. Cody affects the game in ways that don’t come through on the stat sheet.
“I think the big thing that we saw from Cody from game one to game two is how quick and willing he was to adapt and figure things out and then carry right into the next game against Ohio State. Now he fouled out near the end, but we don’t get the win without the way he played throughout the game. Certainly Ohio State was a physical game as well that day. Cody adjusted to that in a big way and I think what’s happened is that over a period of time, Cody has shown that the more physical you are with him, the better he’s going to be. I don’t think that affects him, I think he relishes it. I think he had to go through it a little bit, especially on the road the first time, to understand that.”
On how this year in the Big Ten compares to years past and how important it is to have Indiana back:
“I’m sure it’s important to the Big Ten, but it’s more important to us. That’s what we’re focused on. It’s important to the fans. It’s important to the program, especially with the way everyone has endured what we’ve had to be a part of that last couple of years. I think it’s a big deal. I think it’s a big deal nationally. I don’t think there’s any question of that. Indiana has always been one of the marquee programs in the country and to have it be back playing the way that it supposed to play and the year that we’ve had to this point, I think it’s good for every body.
“As far as where the league’s at, I think it’s been good since I’ve been back in it. I think this year more than ever. The closeness of the games really shows what this league is all about and there are so many different teams that can win on any given night. You’ve got to have some health to be able to go through it, but the bottom line is that teams are deep. They have a lot of different ways that they can beat you and it’s an extremely well-coached league. There’s no question about that and it just continues to get better. I think what keeps proving out, especially over the last couple of years, is that everybody has been recruiting so well and I don’t think any body is going to take a back seat to that in the near future. I think this league has a chance to be the standard league for a long time.”