A change in NCAA rules has given Tom Crean more chances to work with his team at Indiana.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) -- Ralph Willard, Tom Izzo and the Harbaugh Family are the Go-To names that people list as coaches who have influenced Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean. He worked for the first two and married into the Harbaugh family. It's a reasonable assumption.
It's also far from the complete list. Crean studies everybody. If there's a book on leadership, Crean has read it, from LaRussa to Belichick to Lombardi to captains of commerce or spiritual advisors. Crean is not afraid to be non-traditional that way.
So it was no surprise the videos Crean was studying the other day were not from his team's unexpected 27-win season. They were videos of teams coached by a guy Crean has long admired – Denny Crum.
They were videos of the 1980 and 1986 University of Louisville teams that Crum directed to NCAA titles. Specifically, they were clips of how those teams, the ones with so many interchangeable parts, played Crum's trademark switching defense.
"We've got a chance to have more depth," said Crean, who has talked with Crum about visiting IU practices. "We have a chance to pressure the ball more. We definitely have more length. We can do more switching. That's why I'm so interested in looking at the old Louisville teams of Denny Crum and how they did that.
"There's so many more opportunities we have defensively right now because of our length and versatility. That's how we have tried to recruit it. Get versatile, multi-dimensional, multi-positional guys. And try not to get too many people that can't shoot the ball."
Shooting the ball will always be an emphasis with Crean. His team ranked second nationally in three-point shooting percentage last season and fifth in overall shooting percentage.
This summer Crean is not backing away from that approach. But he's been studying videos of the Crum teams to uncover ways to improve Indiana's defense.
Opposing teams made nearly 43 percent of their shots against the Hoosiers last season. IU ranked 64th nationally in points allowed per possession, a number that must improve for the Hoosiers to justify their pre-season top five rankings. That's the next big step Indiana must make -- on defense.
His entire team has been on campus for the second summer session. A change in NCAA rules allows coaches to work with their players as a group for two hours per week as they attend classes. Last summer some of Crean's guys played against NBA players in a league in Indianapolis. This summer all the serious work is happening in Bloomington.
Two Hoosiers – seniors Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston – have already earned their undergraduate degrees. Five others – Christian Watford, Maurice Creek, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey and Cody Zeller – are on track to earn their degrees in 3 ½ years or less. Crean's players have earned perfect APR scores from the NCAA in back-to-back seasons. That's non-traditional, too.
"There's no question, they've got a big hunger – and it shows," Crean said. "It shows in how they're working. They're very, very serious. We had a great semester academically.
"We probably had seven guys who had their highest GPAs in a semester at Indiana, and that's coming off how busy they were with the success we had during the season. That's a great sign that the culture is truly in the right place. There's not a sense that any complacency has crept in. We're not trying to recruit people that ever feel like they've arrived at any point."
Crean has experimented with playing Hulls in the same backcourt with freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell. They would be an undersized pair, but Crean is convinced that Hulls (and others) will thrive shooting the ball because of Ferrell's ability to drive and pass.
"Jordan to stand to gain a lot from that because he can make shots," Crean said. "When (Hulls) is on the court, everybody's confidence level goes up."
Crean has also pushed Zeller to shoot the ball from 15 feet and beyond, encouraging him out of his comfort zone around the basket. Oladipo, Sheehey and Remy Abell, the sophomore from Eastern High School, have also expanded their games.
But Crean's primary message remains defense. This is how he explained it to his players:
"Last year we averaged about 53 shots per game. Ten came from seniors. That's only 10 shots (that are gone). What are we going to do to create more shots?
"It's not how am I going to get more shots? It's how are we going to create more shots? More steals, more deflections, more possessions, more offensive rebounds. Those are the things.
"It can't be less assists. It's got to be more assists. Our job is to make sure we're giving everybody a chance to play in a high-pitch, fast-paced game by getting better defensively.
"We're trying to get people to go above and beyond the standards that are already here. That's when you're making progress."