Crean lauds younger Pitino, Hollins

Tom Crean’s connection to the Pitino family goes back all the way to his days at Western Kentucky, when he coached for one of Rick Pitino’s closest personal friends. It continued at Marquette, where Crean coached against the elder Pitino in both Conference USA and the Big East.

It continues Saturday at 8:15 p.m. when Crean and Indiana face Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis and therefore has his first coaching matchup against the elder Pitino’s son Richard, the 31-year-old coach of the Golden Gophers.

Pitino said at Big Ten Media Day this season that Crean was one of the first coaches in the Big Ten to welcome him to the league.

“I’ve always had great respect for his dad,” Crean said on a teleconference Friday morning. “The person who’s had as big of a a coaching mentor to me in my life, there’s been others certainly, but Ralph Willard who I worked for is as close a friend as Rick Sr. has, I think you want to help people that are going into some situation. I always appreciated when people did that for me. Richard has tremendous abilities, he has a great mind for the game, he has a background the game, but he’s got an adaptability and a flexibility.” 

That, Crean said, is what could make Pitino a dangerous coach in the conference. He said the younger Pitino has some similarities and some differences with his father, but what he can gather from watching film on him is that they are both difficult to scout. The calling card for both is pressurized defense and  an emphasis on creating turnovers. The Golden Gophers average more steals (8.3 per game) than anyone else in the Big Ten. Beyond that, though, they can win games in a number of different ways.

“That’s one thing that’s always stood out about Rick’s team, his father’s teams is how hard a preparation they were because of how many things you had to get ready for,” Crean said. “Richard is the same way, there’s no question.”

The Golden Gophers have lost three straight games to Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue, but Crean dismissed the first two losses earlier this week because the Gophers were playing without star guard Andre Hollins. Hollins returned Wednesday and appeared in the Gophers 77-74 triple overtime loss to Purdue and shot 3-for-14, but Crean said he expects that to be an anomaly and the Gophers to be much harder to deal with as he gets back to full health.

“it gives them a bona fide lead guard and one of the better ones in the country,” Crean said. “He can score, he can shoot with range. He can get people shots, he can defend, he’s very crafty, he’s very cerebral. There’s so many different things that he brings to the table. I’m sure after one game under his belt and being that much more healthy, he’s going to be the tough matchup that he always is.”

His own team is coming off a landmark victory over Michigan that has thrust them back into the NCAA Tournament conversation. The Hoosiers, who have had a week off since, have started to form an identity around their defense. The Hoosiers held a Wolverines squad that was the third-most efficient offense in Division I heading into the game to just 52 points. They’ve held each of their last three opponents to 60 points or fewer.

“I do think they’re really grasping things pretty well,” Crean said. “When we stay disciplined to what needs to happen, to where our coverages are, where the three-point shooters are (we can be pretty good). I’ve said this a couple of times the last week but it’s so hard for players to grasp, but every team has a way that they want to win, that they want to play, and you have to do the very best job you can do to take that away and not try to think that it’s not there. If a team wants to play through the middle to create three-point shots, then you can’t get sucked into the middle and allow those open three-point shots. If you can’t overhelp on the dribble because they can make a drive-and-kick pass for an open three-point shot, then you can’t overhelp on the dribble. Those are the discipline things that it’s taken us time to learn. We’ve been consistent at times, other times not as consistent.”

The Hoosiers will likely be a man down in Saturday’s game because of illness. Senior guard Evan Gordon is healthy now after nearly missing Sunday’s game against Michigan, but now freshman swingman Collin Hartman is apparently battling the flu and hasn’t been with the team. Crean said that as of Friday morning, the Hoosiers were still deciding whether or not Hartman would travel. Hartman hasn’t played much in his freshman season, totaling 68 minutes in 14 games, scoring nine points and grabbing 13 rebounds total.

“There’s no question he’s been dealing with a  virus, being treated with the flu,” Crean said. “We haven’t seen him other than the doctors and Tim Garl the last couple of days. His status is unknown with us leaving later today. We don’t want to do the wrong thing for him. We want to keep an eye on that.”

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