Crean putting together vision for guard-oriented team

The team Tom Crean coaches this season will operate differently than any team he’s coached at Indiana and possibly different than any team he’s ever led. It certainly will have to undergo a vast metamorphosis from the 2013-14 Hoosiers squad that finished 17-15 and missed the postseason entirely.

Indiana returns just six scholarship players from last year’s roster with one of them — rising sophomore forward Collin Hartman — rehabilitating from an ACL tear with an still undetermined timeline for his return. Last year’s squad was low on guards, heavy on wings, and had an eventual top-10 NBA draft pick playing center in Noah Vonleh. This year’s team will have an over-abundance of guards, a smaller number of wings, and two unproven players over 6-foot-9 who will have to man the center position.
Crean said in June at an Indiana tailgate tour event in Borden that he wasn’t sure what Indiana’s style of play would be, but that it would have to be unconventional. Crean said at a press availability on Tuesday that the construction of his vision for this team is in its early stages.

“We haven’t put much in yet,” Crean said. “So much of this has been about spacing, how we utilize the 3-point line and the NBA line. So much of it has been about really getting the repetition of the fundamentals. Of the basics of fundamentals and the fundamentals for Indiana basketball. Every team has their own things that they really hold on to, and the better we get at that, the more we’re going to be able to do different things.”

Spacing can be a weapon for this Indiana team because it focused much of its recruiting on adding what it didn’t have last year — perimeter shooting.

Last year’s IU squad finished tied for last in the Big Ten in made 3-point field goals with 176. Rising junior point guard Yogi Ferrell, who led the Big Ten in 3-point field goals per game with 2.8, was responsible for exactly half of those. There were just three other players on the roster — forward Will Sheehey, guard Evan Gordon and center Noah Vonleh — who made at least 10 3-pointers last season, and all three of them are gone. Ferrell and Vonleh were the only two IU players who shot better than 40 percent from the 3-point line, and that made it difficult for both of them to operate. Opponents clogged the middle against the Hoosiers, helping off their wing players to keep Ferrell from driving to the lane and Vonleh from getting space to post-up.

To fix that, the Hoosiers put together what has been referred to as the best shooting recruiting class in the nation. Guards James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson Jr. are renowned for their marksmanship, as is swingman Max Hoetzel and power forward Tim Priller. Illinois State transfer Nick Zeisloft, a recent pick-up, hit 60 3-pointers last season and shot 41.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. All of that could allow the Hoosiers to score from spaces on the floor that they couldn’t last season.

“Last year, there was only one guy I wanted taking a shot in the corner,” Crean said, meaning Ferrell. “He was the point guard, and I didn’t really want him taking that shot because when you take that shot it’s going to be that much harder (to defend in transition.) … Now, the corner is going to be a whole other thing. We’re not going to become this NBA team living out of shots in the corner, but you’re going to have to guard us there. There’s going to be that much more movement off of that.”

Crean said he’s been watching video from a number of teams, some several years in the past, to gain insights as to how to operate a heavily guard-oriented team. The coach said he often looks to European teams for inspiration and said he watched a lot video from recently-hired Cleveland Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt’s teams in Europe, including the Russian national team. He watched a lot of Connecticut, this season’s national champion, because the Huskies were very guard-oriented with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright leading the charge. He also said he watched film of Louisville teams with Reece Gaines that Crean’s Marquette squads played and video of Villanova teams that always put three or four guards on the floor.

Also, his roster isn’t built the same way, but he’s focusing on at least one characteristic of the NBA champions.

“Everybody wants to emulate the (San Antonio) Spurs,” Crean said. “It’s very hard to do that. you’ve gotta be committed to it. But they have one thing that stands out (is they can get) the good and the great shot. We have to be able to get that great shot. But the more the ball moves, the more it’s going to come around.”

Crean said the ball has to move off of the drive as well, because the Hoosiers have to find ways to get to the free throw line without a focal presence in the interior. The dribble-drive should be more effective, however, because opponents will have to cover the drive-and-kick and the floor should be better spaced.

The Hoosiers will be young with zero seniors and just three scholarship juniors, so whatever unconventional methods Crean comes up with, he doesn’t want to overburden them with a humongous playbook. However, he does believe the Hoosiers can be effective employing basic fundamental ideas and playing through them.

“Its gotta be simplistic,” Crean said. “It really does. Certainly, we’re not going to have (a large number) of plays. We’re not going to have to do that. There’s going to be a lot more play out of the concepts. … We want to run. We want to space. It’s not a lot of changes, it’s people that can make more of those plays.”



  1. I think Robert Johnson might be the unsung hero of this class. He seems like a glue guy with a lot of potential. His numbers weren’t as impressive as JBJ, but quite solid and seems like his work ethic and ability to connect with his teammates is already there.

    There’s a ton of coach-speak here, so no comment. However, I do have to admit to being more excited about this year’s team than maybe the average Hoosier fan.

  2. DD I would be enthusiastic also,BUT ( here comes the but )when CTC starts using the terms “young” or “inexperienced” I cringe thinking of last years 16 to /game. A team that really has no front line can hardly afford even 10 TO’s a game

  3. Dustin, where did you get the 41.8% 3-point stat? The IL State “official stats” say 35.5%! I like your number better!

  4. Please do not smirk, Dopirak…The offense I envision will flow as natural and pure as the River Dasani.

  5. Marcus , Off the wall question to break up the same old same old. What do you think of Tom Crean ? The way he coaches , recruits , and how it seems to be a revolving door type of program he’s got going on at Indiana ? That was a question asked at a write in question program in the Champaign-Urbana Univ Illinois News-gazette………..Here is the Moderators reply ..which MIGHT give hints to recruiting woes……Very intersting question. I’ll say this, I don’t know the guy personally, so I can’t fully answer the question. I’ve spoken to people who have dealt with Crean on a regular basis and they’ve had very little good to say about him. Not always friendly, kind of arrogant. Again, that’s from others who have dealt with him. I think for the most part, though, his players like him.

    They’ve had some real good talent the last couple of years and haven’t done much with it, so there’s that.

    It’s hard to really judge a guy based on the opinions of others and what you see form the outside looking in. Based on his social media tone and things others say about him, it could be easy to not like Dan Dakich. But I’ve goten to know Dan over the years and I love him. So it’s hard for me to completely have a negative opinion of Crean without truly knowing him.

  6. Meeting someone is not the same as truly knowing him, but I can say that I met the coach when I was visiting Bloomington with my young daughter and stumbled into him at the practice hall. He didn’t have to give us the time of day, but he was warm, friendly, and very nice to my young daughter as well as me.

    If his resume included a national championship, he would be on pretty solid ground.

    Then again maybe I should take that back. These days, no matter what you do, you are still subject to plenty of criticism. Witness Calipari, Izzo, Knight and even Coach K.

    It would be very interesting to get Dustin’s unvarnished take on Coach Crean. When you’re around a guy as much as Dustin is around the Coach and when you hear as much of the “backhall” gossip as Dustin must hear, you have to have pretty solid opinions with a real basis. But you’ll never get that out of Dustin and for understandable reasons.

  7. Not sure how many great big men we have returning in the conference. We lost several to the NBA, transfers, and graduation. Off the top of my head we (the B1G) have Kaminsky and Hammons. Lee is transferring in, and OSU has a few coming in plus the returning center whose name escapes me right now. I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two, but there’s not much else. Someone will surely surprise us this year– as someone always does– but HMP has as good a chance as any to be that breakout star.

    That said, without a lot of quality 4s and 5s, coupled with my amateur sense of an overall decrease in high-end talent accross the conference (as opposed to the last few seasons, at least,) we’re not in as bad a position as we could have been to have to tinker with 3- and 4-guard lineups. The mismatches on offense might be as fun to watch on offense as they are nauseating on defense.

    The most interesting aspect to me is that Crean has to experiment with something he’s never really done before in what many believe is a make or break year for him. I’m not sure I fully agree. (I think it will take a truly disastrous year– some combination of a near .500 or worse record, really bad losses, correctable yet repetitive mistakes, perceived loss of institutional control, loss of players, and/or dearth of incoming impact recruits– for Crean not to return for at least one more.) But it will be interesting to see what the running commentary will be.

  8. WestCoast….I offered that “outside” look for perspective purposes. I lived in the Champaign-Urbana area for 30 yrs( until my wife died),my son still lives in area.It gives us different points of view. I posted the question and responsw because i wondered how pervasive this “outside” opinion IS or COULD be affecting recruiting; and just now thought crossed my mind how the transfers out play into this “outside” opinion

  9. Punjab,

    Good points about lack of big men and defense. I thought last year that Devin Davis showed the potential to bang. He made some freshmen mistakes, but his instincts were good. I think Crean pointed out in his speech, that he’s the strongest guy on the team. Maybe DD steps up this year as the cornerstone of IU’s defense down low?

  10. Harvard for Hillbillies
    Thursday, January 2, 2014 – 1:04 PM EDT

    And forgot to mention Davis…

    I don’t understand his lack of PT. Not sure if he’s getting over an injury or he’s in the doghouse for something.

    I see him as probably the most fundamentally sound talent on the team. He’s equipped with skills ready now. Why isn’t he playing?

    Harvard for Hillbillies
    Thursday, January 2, 2014 – 5:08 PM EDT

    I would love to see more Davis. Nifty player around the blocks. He has a toughness/edge that I think we need. Reminds me of the sort of undervalued services the ’87 squad got from Daryl Thomas.

    Crean gave Davis the Elston treatment last season…Crean favored giving the majority of minutes to Sheehey and his East Coast recruits. I think he’s so consumed with finding his next D-Wade-adipo, NBA diamond in the rough from afar, that he devalues the gritty Indiana “banger” right under his fat nose.

    Davis is another Indiana kid that would have found much more meaningful development at another school…possibly Butler. Before it’s all said and done, Crean will have lost the confidence of every high potential recruit from this state(not including guys like Harris, Irvin, Lyles, McGary, Robinson, etc, etc.).

  11. TJ, my father-in-law has met Crean a few times. Says he’s a very nice guy and routinely goes out of his way for the fans. Of course, that’s the public persona we all see on the sideline, at press conferences, media gigs, around Assembly Hall, and at the grocery store. In private, he could be even nicer, or he could be a complete egomaniacal jerk. (Side note: the mother of one of my buddies in high school/at IU was Bob Knight’s personal secretary. They obviously knew the personal side of Knight that most people seldom got to see, if ever, and said he’s much more warm and personable than the angry tyrant so often portrayed by the media.) Most of us will never know what Crean is truly like behind closed doors, but my guess is the players, recruits, and families– not to mention Dustin — would tell us the real Tom Crean somewhere in the middle, with good days and bad days like the rest of us. Unfortunately, his detractors will only acknowledge the negatives and dismiss the positives. Vice versa for the blind apologists.

    DD and Harv, I admit that too often I forget about Davis. He could end up being the biggest x-factor/most critical piece to our success. I love his play. At this point in time I don’t see a future NBA star, but Indiana fans don’t necessarily want or need that. Not that I begrudge him potentially making his NBA millions one day, but personally I’d much rather have a junkyard dog who terrorizes the conference with his rebounding and defensive tenacity for four years.

  12. Punjab…i copied that question and answer because I was truly caught offguard by the question then by the answer. I truly think the question was raised because its eval time with early recruiting and some in Illinois see Indiana as an adversary ( even more so than Michigan or Mich State)and concerned me that the “hidden” general notion was what was being said in the answer and seems to want to hamstring Indiana and staff in any recruiting or am I being overly concerned for nothing?

  13. Also, Sheehey is from Florida. Technically, it has an Eastern Coast, so I can’t completely call BS on that comment. But, the spirit and the letter of nonsense is a fine line. There is such a fine line between clever and stupid. I think we know where this comment falls on that line.

  14. TJ, I was never recruited. Even if I was, I imagine it’s so much different today than it was in my time that it wouldn’t matter. I couldn’t even fathom what it’s like for a high-level recruit to be courted by so many people these days. So I don’t know what goes through their minds. But my guess is when it comes time to pick a school, the biggest factors (in no particular order) are player development, exposure, playing time, winning tradition, championship possibilities, facilities, coaches, academics, atmosphere, girls, coaches, teammates, girls, social life, proximity to home, parental influence, NBA dreams, and girls.

    Most of these are interrelated. While I certainly think it’s possible– if not likely– that these recruits follow TV/radio/print/electronic media and the associated fan commentary such as the Scoop to help inform their decision, I doubt they rely on it. Would it weigh heavily on your mind if you come across a boo bird from a rival school’s region?

    Unless it’s pervasive. In which case, we might have a problem…

  15. Recruiting has never been Crean’s major issue. Coaching and proper decisions with regard to maintaining flow and team synergy is his major issue. The “eye for NBA talent” argument is highly overrated.

    I really don’t care that he’s short on commitments or found a couple scholarships in his hip pocket only a few months before classes begin. There is plenty of talent on this upcoming team to be highly competitive. The problem that will forever plague Tom Crean is underutilized talent within the college framework. Our teams will never be coached above their talent. I am persoanlly convinced that even some of the younger and/or more recent coaching additions to the Big 10(John Groce, Chris Collins, Richard Pitino)blow Crean out of the water in front of the chalkboard. Within a state that produces such a vast amount of quality basketball players(nothing across the nation compares on a per capita basis), I wouldn’t be shocked if any assistant at a quality program couldn’t step into Bloomington and produce better results than Ringmaster Joyce Tweet. Unfortunately, this would not include the assistant coaches brought in by Crean. Insecure men surround themselves with a certain undemanding level of shortcomings and insecurities the same. The cleaning of house will come…It will take a few more years before, what to most with unclouded vision glaringly can already see, the mediocre accomplishments of talented squads, and the lack of deep appearances in March, will eventually even wear thin on the last holdouts of the holier-than-thou, Christian Right blowhards his once full parish of staunch supporters, that can desperately cling no more.

    “Embrace” the individual talent shows…Enjoy Blackmon’s profound skills and savvy learned from solid coaching and a father immersed in the Indiana game. Relish the few that wear the candy stripes despite the quick realization of playing for a preacher rather than a teacher and the locker room intuitions of their talent only as stage worthy its individual value.

    With so much premier focus on draft nights, mega million contracts, and what a supremely athletic kid can do to get the highest level, I’m increasingly convinced the best of talent really cares that much about what results can be achieved as a team. The best of college basketball within the realm of a team game its stock market value in filling seats is a thing of the past. It’s no shock as to why coaches like Crean have found a home at a place where teaching was just as much a priority as the forever upsides of D-Wade jumpers and every undiscovered vaudevillian act of undressing athleticism in our unrefined hoops.

  16. I’m increasingly convinced the best of talent really cares that much [cares very little] about what results can be achieved as a team

  17. Instead of worrying about what Illini fans think of Tom Crean in a coaching bubble, I would be more interested in asking them to explain how John Groce could find another chance for Armon Bassett while Indiana could not. Would this be something of a worrisome issue with Groce? Without Bassett’s standout shooting performance and spectacular play(3 years ago?) in a stunning upset in March Madness involving his Ohio Bobcats team against a highly favored Georgetown, how much would Groce’s perceived level of coaching genius would have been spoon-fed to the ESPN/Establishment media channels? How far is Groce willing to go with questionable recruits to build his own name? You’ve got plenty your own worries than to waste time with more of your banner insecurities involving IU Basketball.

  18. For those Illini fans so stuck on Crean that may have somewhat interfered with short term memory of how an Indiana kid, an ex-Hoosier/candy-striper, a Sampson throwaway put on bus with Jeff Meyer and many others, put their current “solid as gold” coach on the NCAA tournament map.

    I would have concerns….

  19. Jeremy(I’d call you “Ryno” but it was taken by Sandberg)-

    Thanks for allowing me to ramble…And thanks for letting me drift from “Harvard” to “Lord of the ____?____” screen names occasionally. And thanks for all your understanding when it comes to my warped sense of fairness….You da man.

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