IU set to open preseason practice focused on defense, decision making #iubb

The starting point is as high as it’s been for Indiana basketball in three years, but the pitfalls that most recently harmed the Hoosiers still loom to a degree.

As IU prepares to open Friday morning’s first official practice of the season, it does so with a focus on plugging the many holes in its defense and concentrating on better decision making on and off the floor. It’s those specific areas, coach Tom Crean says, that will determine who sees meaningful minutes and who does not in a crucial season for the program.

“The ability to play the right way defensively is going to have a lot to do with all of their playing time,” Crean said. “And I’m not big on this guy has to do this and this guy has to do that, and predicting starting lineups and things like that because, really, it’s very irrelevant. It really is. It’s fun to talk about, but in theory it’s a fluid deal. Right now they have to understand those two biggest things: decision making with the ball and how they defend.”

This will be Crean’s most experienced team since his Big Ten championship squad of the 2012-13 season. With essentially all key starters from last season set to return, the Hoosiers have an upper tier base of talent on which to build. Indiana is a near-consensus top-15 team entering the preseason, with the Hoosiers ranked anywhere between No. 4 (Lindys) and No. 17 (Athlon) in the country.

But experience alone will not provide the difference for an Indiana program that finished last season ranked No. 214 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to college basketball statistics website KenPom.com. IU has paced the Big Ten in scoring over the last four years, but wants to bring its point differential back to a much more sustainable level. To do so, Crean expects to introduce more pressure concepts over the coming weeks.

Indiana will begin the preseason with a pair of practices Friday, followed by an additional workout early Saturday. Those sessions will provide the team with an introduction to some of the on-ball pressure concepts that Crean hopes to employ this season. By the end of the weekend, Indiana will have worked through a three-quarter press that Crean wants to use more of this winter, and by next week, the Hoosiers will jump into more full-court pressure workouts.

“Defensively, you have to create possessions by being a better defensive rebounding team and creating more tunrovers,” Crean said. “Some of those turnovers come off traps, but some of those turnovers come because you brought fatigue to the game and created enough fatigue throughout it that that decision making process starts to drop. That’s where we want to get ourselves to.”

After the NCAA moved the first day of basketball practice two weeks earlier beginning in the fall of 2013, Indiana has used the extra time on task to acclimate young players to the college game. Although the Hoosiers’ experience level across the board is higher, the off-season dismissals of Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Emmitt Holt and Devin Davis once again means that freshmen will need to play big roles during the coming months.

Holt’s dismissal will have the biggest on-the-floor impact for the Hoosiers. Coming off a season where Holt averaged 3.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and came on strong down the stretch, Crean said the former IU forward was in line to be one of the team’s top eight players, if not a starter come opening night against Eastern Illinois on Nov. 13. Holt’s departure means incoming freshmen frontcourt additions like Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan and O.G. Anunoby, along with Michigan transfer Max Bielfeldt, are due for an accelerated crash course in preseason preparation.

They not only have to develop as individual players, but as contributors who can step in and solve some of the on- and off-court shortcomings.

“Max Bielfeldt is a great example,” Crean said. “I think he’s going to be able to defend different things for us. We have one year with him and I think he’s going to get to the point where he can do different things defensively, but if he’s not a quarterback on the back line of that defense and has the ability to call out screens, and the ability to help people rotate, and the ability to cover ground in a short space, we won’t be as good.”

The next month will also provide Indiana with a window to return to full health. Crean said James Blackmon Jr., who underwent underwent surgery in mid-July to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee, is a full-go, but the sophomore guard is still trying to regain the conditioning experience he lost over the summer. Crean added that Blackmon’s shot hasn’t been up to par, but the Hoosiers are expecting Blackmon to make a full recovery, both health-wise and from a production standpoint.

Pittsburgh transfer Josh Newkirk, who is recovering from knee surgery while he sits out this season due to NCAA rules, will be the only Hoosier not participating in this weekend’s first set of workouts.

“We’ll have a full team,” Crean said. “Nobody will be standing on the sideline not being able to participate.”

Practice also represents a full return to basketball for the Hoosiers, who are moving on from an off-season spate of incidents that saw Mosquera-Perea, Holt and Davis booted from the program. As IU readies to jump into a new season, Crean says he hopes the Hoosiers do so with a firm sense of shared responsibility.

“They’re young men and things could change tonight, things could change tomorrow night, things could change next week,” Crean said. “Any parent or anybody who’s been around children for any point of time, anybody that’s been an employer, they should be able to identify with that and I hope they do. This team is really working hard to get better.”