Hoosiers healthy as they prepare for Hillsdale

Tom Crean knows that the faster his young Indiana team develops and defines an identity the better it will be in the long run, but there is a part he knows he has to play in that process that even he isn’t ready for.

“What I’ve gotta do is I’ve got to really establish for them what their roles are right now,” Crean said Sunday. “It’s a little early for that. It’s probably very early for that, but get ourselves in a sense of what our expectation level is when it comes to shooting the ball, when it comes to who’s shooting the ball where, when it comes to the ball-handling, when it comes to the level of screening that we have to have, when it comes to the level of rebounding that we have to have. All of that. … But I throw my hands up sometimes and have no idea where to go with some of that right now, because we really are so young.”

Exhibition games like today’s 7 p.m. game at Assembly Hall against Hillsdale — a Division II team from Michigan — give him another opportunity to start to get an idea there. This one should be more effective in that regard than the first exhibition game on Oct. 26 against Southern Indiana if for no other reason than the fact that the Hoosiers will have their full compliment of players. Freshman guard Stanford Robinson missed the Southern Indiana game with a bruised knee before scoring 20 points the next day in the Haunted Hall of Hoops scrimmage and freshman forward Devin Davis took the whole weekend off because his body was apparently ailing all over. Crean said both of those players should be available and that the Hoosiers have been at full strength for the first time this preseason over the last week of practice.

According to Crean, that period hasn’t been enough to give him much of an idea of how roles should be defined.

“One of the coaches mentioned that guys are starting to separate,” Crean said. “I disagreed. I said, ‘I’m not seeing a lot of separation right now.’ We’ve got a lot of guys who are working hard and playing hard, but we don’t really have people who are pulling away from the pack. And I’m going to treat that as a good thing.”

As he looks for roles to define themselves, Crean will be looking for the same collective improvements he was asking for when he first got a hold of the seven newcomers — including six freshmen — to the team in the summer. The team identity he wants this group to have is of one that creates offense with defense, using its length and athleticism to stymie opponents and create turnovers and rebound opportunities to lead to the ball being pushed up the floor for easy buckets on the offensive end.

He saw some of that in the first exhibition game against Southern Indiana when the Hoosiers caused 16 turnovers and scored 23 points off of fast breaks. However, the Hoosiers also allowed the Screaming Eagles to make 50 percent of their second-half shots, and Crean wants to see that improve.
“(I want to) challenge shots better,” Crean said. “Not gamble defensively, but at the same time not take their instincts and their athletic instincts away from them, but really start to understand how to be more solid defensively.”

Senior swingman Will Sheehey said the Hoosiers have to get better in post defense specifically. Southern Indiana forwards Aaron Nelson and Taylor Wischmeier had 14 and 13 points respectively against Southern Indiana and the Hoosiers believed they made it too easy for that to happen.

“The catches are too easy,” Sheehey said. “You never want someone to catch it in toward the basket. You try to push them away from the basket as much as possible when they’re in the post. So really just making catches harder for post guys. Also, our guards have to help with ball pressure, not letting the ball into the post. Things like that.”

Hillsdale makes for a difficult challenge in those regards because they can work the ball in the post, but everyone they put on the floor can shoot 3-pointers.

The Chargers played Valparaiso close in their first exhibition, falling 69-60, then almost stunned a Toledo team Sunday that is expected to be one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference. The Rockets needed a buzzer-beater from star guard Julius Brown to win 85-84.

The Chargers knocked down 14 3-pointers in that game and forward Tim Dezelski, who led Hillsdale with 16 points per game last season, scored 29 points and hit eight 3-pointers. They shot 53.3 from the field during the game.

“Really good spacing,” Crean said. “This is a very good movement, motion, screening, set a screen, receive a screen, very good at that. What we’ve gotta do is really challenge shots. We’ve gotta get guys off their spots. We’ve gotta get guys out of rhythm shots, because they want to reverse the ball, keep cutting and screening, look for those layups and all the sudden there’s a wide open three. Motion teams for any team are usually very, very hard to defend. For a young team, it could be a nightmare…. The challenging of the shots will be a big thing.”