Tom Crean’s philosophy on when to play multiple big men at the same time

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.”


  1. If transition defense is so important there is no reason he should have ever offered Peter Jurkin a scholarship. Even if healthy he would have only been a fringe player because he never would have been good enough to be a primary player and Crean would never have played him with another big player
    Guess we will always have 3 wings 1 point and 1 inside player in hs era

  2. dustin,

    it’s a good thing hanner gets to be a freshman again. this will give him more to time develop, which he desperately needs.

  3. i don’t get it, Mich bigs were killing us early and Perea didn’t play one second in the game!

  4. If 1 of your bigs(Hanner)is not being guarded would not the easy offense move be to endeavor to pass him the ball for dunks until the opponent guards all 5? Sometimes just playing solid Hoosier BB gets lost in schemes and match ups.

  5. Could we not put them in together and try it instead of just writing it off as “not going to work”?

  6. Is a coach ever not going to have an answer? When I attempt to read these public disclosures of coaching acumen from Tom Crean, I feel like I’m sitting in that old classic carnival ride at the county fair….What’s that ride called…? Is it the Scrambler? Remember the one? It just keeps thrusting you in multiple directions on a smooth plane of random fast straight lines; a back and forth…back and forth..forward and backward…this-a-way and that-a-way, while you and your partner spin in rapid circular motion on the single post serving as axis for the bucket seat. It’s a safe ride of confusion and fun while the music plays to repeated surges of your body and mind being fooled into the pushes and pulls of fast and slow, stop and go. After a the first couple movements, you begin to settle in. After a couple more sentences, you begin to get dizzy…After a couple more minutes, you begin to feel sick and just want off the paragraph.

    I’m ready for some cotton candy….Let you youngsters get on the various rides at the Crean carnival of paragraphs. When you get older, the brain shrinks and can’t take the gyrations and sloshing inside the hard walnut shell. Back-cuts…transition defense…pick-and-roll..spacing…trapping…loading up the lane…It’s all just to much spinning for my freeze-dried brain. I don’t want the experience. I just want to watch and stop analyzing. I’ve had enough of the scrambler busting up my commonsense with a Cuisinart of b-ball jargon. I just want to watch a game and have a beer…and stop their spinning chatter that destroys the balance, the equilibrium, of what my eyes they choose to fool with too much dizzy in my ear.

  7. I do love the nightlights and the laughing in this one…I sorta think this is how Dustin is internally processing Crean’s comments.

  8. The results are in. Coach Crean did NOT play 2 Bigs! Yes there were a few (very few) minutes when Noah and Devin both played (and that worked well). But there was never any purpose to forming a team effort around these few minutes. Hanner got 90 seconds but not with Devin or Noah-what was the point? I have not liked Coach Crean’s personnel moves this season. I have really not liked the lack of any real team identity, purpose, or “team” concept this season. But the failure to instill “discipline” on TO’s, shot selection, dribbling and defensive shot challenges, is inexcusable for Coach Crean!

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