Tom Crean stunned a number of listeners and other IU fans when he said that Saturday’s Michigan game finally made it clear to him that he could play freshmen Noah Vonleh and Devin Davis at the same time. He also said the Hoosiers were starting to lean towards putting freshman center Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Vonleh on the floor at the same time before Mosquerea-Perea was suspended for the team for being arrested on an OWI charge.
Why, several fans wondered, did it take so long for Crean to figure this out?
Crean was given an opportunity to explain further at Wednesday’s press conference. He was asked what he looks for to determine whether or not frontcourt players can play together.
“It’s three big things to me,” Crean said. “No. 1 is transition defense. That’s one of the things I think I said this too, the other night, that we were looking to start to try to do that with Hanner and then we had the incident. We were really looking to do that going into the Purdue game. As I had said to him that day actually, because we spent about 30 or 40 minutes of that in that practice, that Thursday, is the offense — that’s the third part. It’s more about, can they defend? Here’s what happens. No. 1, it’s transition defense. No. 2, it’s having two bigs that have to do multiple things, whether we’re switching, whether we’re downing, whether we’re trapping, whatever we are, they have to do those things in real time and they have to be able to communicate it to their teammates. No. 3, (does your opponent) have to guard those people? Because if you’re just playing two bigs together and they don’t have to guard them, then it just loads up the lane. You can say, ‘Well, they have to guard Noah everywhere.’ Well, they still have to guard the other player. That player has to be really good in driving, has to be really good in the alley, has to be really good in the screening game, has to be really good in getting other people shots. Even when they’re not guarded to the three-point line, they’re still being recognized. If we just went three-out, two-in, they’d just jam the lane up … and there’d be at least four guys inside 15 feet every time. And people are already doing everything they can do to box Yogi in and load up the lane where he’s anywhere in that slot elbow area. So it really, if you’re not careful it can just kill your spacing. Now, if you’re putting multiple 3-point shooters out there, you’re putting guys that they have to guard to the NBA (3-point) line, you’re putting guys out there that can navigate the pick-and-roll and you get the game in spacing and now you’ve got not only the back-cut threat but the three-point threat, it’s a little easier to do that. The third part is that spacing area. But to me, to me, far and away, it’s the transition defense. Because if you have two bigs in the game and they’re not both really good at getting back, you’re going to give up easy baskets. With the margin for error in this league, the easy basket is the worst thing you can do.”
Crean was asked why he felt better about Davis and Perea in those roles now than he did at the beginning of the season.
“Improving in those areas, especially Devin. Improving in the transition defense, getting more comfortable in the offense. … I thought he was really aggressive the other day. I think Devin is playing a pretty high level of defense. Gotta do a better job of defensive rebounding against bigger people and keeping those people off the glass. There’s also places that he’s finding his niche more and more offensively in practice, which I think is going to help him in the games. At Devin’s size, there’s going to be days when he is a pretty good scorer around the rim, there’s going to be days that he’s not. As he expands his game — and it’s not there yet with the jump shot, things of that nature have to come —but they’ve improved enough in those areas that we can do that from time to time, but I wouldn’t look at it and say, ‘OK, that’s the mainstay of the way we need to play.’ We still don’t shoot the ball well enough to create that kind of spacing.”