Tom Crean understands the challenge awaiting his team today in the state capital, so he asked the group to do something different.
The Hoosiers practiced five-on-seven this week to simulate facing the size and length of Louisville, which will tip the first in a three-game series with IU Saturday at 12:38 p.m. in Indianapolis. It’s an exercise designed to familiarize the kind of pressure the Cardinals bring, to understand quick cuts and well-executed screens and do it all in a way that minimizes turnovers in the actual game.
Indiana could certainly use the work.
Three days after opening Big Ten season with a disappointing loss against Nebraska, the Hoosiers will close the non-conference portion of the schedule looking to atone for their shortcomings against the Cardinals in the Countdown Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
To do so, IU needs cleaner ball handling, better defense and more toughness. It needs attention to detail and players willing to lead consistently, rather than in spurts.
Essentially, the Hoosiers have a list of things they must do better than they did on Wednesday against Nebraska.
“The bottom line is we just made too many mistakes,” Crean said. “… We did not play well, we did not play smart, we did not play nearly as tough as we need to be. We played hard, but we weren’t as efficient as we needed to be. Too many mistakes. That’s what these guys learned: anyone can beat anybody on any given night.”
Especially Louisville, which also heads north on the heels of a loss. The Cardinals fell to Virginia in their conference opener, but remain one of the favorites to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference crown. No, they don’t have a particularly explosive offense; they’re not a very good shooting team. But Louisville makes up for it on defense, where it is considered the No. 1 team nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com.
The Cardinals will press and throw a range of different looks at the Hoosiers, who say they’ve spent the latter half of the week refocusing on the little things that can make them more complete.
“All we have to do is play simple basketball,” Thomas Bryant said. “When the pass is there, you pass it. When you have an open shot, you take it.”
That approach sounds simple, and perhaps Indiana can make it so. But earlier this week against the Cornhuskers, the Hoosiers had a way of overcomplicating even the smallest things.
They committed 19 turnovers while, at times, playing too quickly. Earlier this month, IU assistant Chuck Martin said he believed many of the Hoosier errors were made with good intentions. The Hoosiers have willing passers, but at times they can be too unselfish. That’s part of what’s led Indiana to own one of the nation’s worst turnover percentages at 21.8 percent.
Turnovers, yet again this season, were a concerning issue on Wednesday night.
“There were times the other day we tried to take shots when the drop-off was there. There were times the other day we tried to make the pass when the shot was there,” Crean said. “Great example: OG (Anunoby) has a wide-open 3 and the only one who didn’t think he’d shoot it was OG because he thought he had Juwan (Morgan). Well, Juwan is already in rebounding position doing exactly what he was supposed to do, getting inside position. OG was trying to pass the ball, but it ends up being a turnover because he’s gonna try to make the next pass. A lot of it comes out of unselfishness. The other day, we had a few shots we need back. If we try to do that tomorrow, the’ll set a blocks record.”
A healthy Morgan, who injured his shoulder against Nebraska, would give Indiana a significant boost. Against Louisville’s size and length — and also its ability to mix and match lineups — Morgan’s versatility stands as a major plus for the Hoosiers.
He, Anunoby, Bryant and De’Ron Davis could prove vital against the Cardinals’ approach, but Crean said Friday that he’s not yet certain whether Morgan will be available.
“He’s doing better,” Crean said. “I would anticipate him playing, but we can’t go definitive on that yet. … We gotta wait through (Saturday morning). He’s worked really hard to get better. he couldn’t have gone back the other night, without a doubt. He was extremely sore and, certainly, our worst fears weren’t realized which was good because that was tough. That was tough when he went down, but we’ll see.”
With or without Morgan, IU will need to be willing rebounders, too.
While the Hoosiers are third in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (41.8), the Cardinals aren’t far behind at No. 12 (38.8). Indiana needs to be tougher, both mentally and physically. The glass, along with the turnover margin, is an area IU can’t get beat.
“As I told these guys, they could play for a lot of years and they might not see a much longer team than this,” Crean said. “They utilize that length extremely well. They’re battle tested. They’ve played great games. They’ve played in big venues. They’ve played a tough schedule. They’re coming off a tough loss. It’s gonna be a battle. It has to be a battle.”