CRAWFORD | IU, Minnesota look to keep pace in Big Ten - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | IU, Minnesota square off in fight to keep pace in Big Ten

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MINNEAPOLIS — Both Minnesota and Indiana have experienced the highs of victories over top 10 teams. They've also experienced losses that they didn't expect in the Big Ten Conference.

When they meet at 9 tonight in Williams Arena, both are in need of a win to keep from slipping out of the crowded middle pack in the Big Ten.

"The conference is a beast," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "Everybody has had their struggles, outside of Michigan and Michigan State."

Pitino and his Gophers have lost three straight after turning heads nationally with a 15-5 start. Indiana and coach Tom Crean had lost three out of four before knocking off Michigan in Bloomington last Sunday. The Hoosiers are 4-5 in Big Ten play, Minnesota 4-6.

With six days to prepare, Crean has been able to get in some extra work in needed areas, but he noted that Minnesota could well be on an uptick after getting injured point guard Andre Hollins back before its triple-overtime loss at Purdue on Wednesday. In Ken Pomeroy's tempo-adjusted statistics, Minnesota ranks 21st nationally in offensive efficiency, while Indiana ranks 18th in defensive efficiency.

"It (Hollins' return) makes them that much more explosive and they are already one of the more experienced teams in the league, when you count the guys that are back and the fact they have a guy like Malik Smith, who has been at this for a long time," Crean said. "But Andre gives them a bon-a-fide lead-guard and one of the better ones in the country because he can score, he can shoot with range, he can get people shots, he can defend; he is very crafty and very cerebral. There are so many different things that he brings to the table. I'm sure after one game under his belt (after the injury) and getting that much more healthy, he is going to be the tough matchup that he always is.

"They have outstanding guard play and excellent team toughness, there is no question about that," Crean continued. "They have a front line that is experienced and been down the line and done so many different things. This just adds to them being that much more of a tough opponent because they put someone in there that absolutely knows how to get it done."

Pitino said his team just needs to get back into the winning column. It lost a home game to Northwestern that he felt it should've won. (Indiana did the same.) It lost a close game at Nebraska. And at Purdue, it dropped a triple-overtime thriller.

"That was the most disappointed I've been, just as a head coach, not disappointed with our performance, in my young head coaching career," Pitino said. "Just because I thought our guys emotionally deserved success. They were together, they were very positive throughout the game, they were picking each other up. We just didn't need the breaks we needed to get. So now we've lost three in a row, so it's extremely important to win, and it's extremely important to win at home, because in this league it's so tough to win on the road."

The coaches have a  bit of a history. Pitino has known Crean back to his days at Marquette, and said the IU coach has been one of those who reached out to him with support after he took the job at Minnesota at age 31.

"There are certainly similarities to what his father has done," Crean said of Pitino. "But at the same time I don't think there is any question that Richard is his own man in the way that he coaches. . . . The person that has been as big of a coaching mentor to me - and there have been others - Ralph Willard is probably as close of a friend as Rick Pitino has. You want to help someone that is going into situations - I always appreciated when people did that for me. At the end of the day, Richard has tremendous abilities. He has a great mind for the game. He has a great background from the game. But he has adaptability and flexibility - and I think you see the same thing in (Northwestern head coach) Chris Collins. When those guys have that, no matter what their background is or how they have been raised, they still have the ability to do what they need to do to put their team in the best possible light that day.
"I don't think Richard needs a lot of advice on that, he is doing a fantastic job. I have a lot of respect for him and have always followed what he has done and, being in the same league for so many years with his father and what they are capable of. Bottom line is Richard has a great career in front of him."

Of Crean, Pitino said: "He was always very good to me. he's the type of guy if you don't know him you're not really sure know what kind of guy he is. Once you know him, you learn that he's extremely passionate about the game, extremely positive, extremely complimentary, and the kind of guy who can give you some good advice because he's been doing it for a while and at a very high level. I always had a lot of respect for him at Marquette because his teams played so hard, they defended, and they were so prepared and so hard to guard. And he's done the same thing at Indiana. He took over a tough situation, probably a lot tougher a situation than I took over, and he's built it up the right way. He's got some good young talent and he's building it up."

Coming off its best win of the season, Indiana probably would've preferred to keep winning, just to stay in some kind of rhythm. But Crean says he used the week of preparation as best he could. Yogi Ferrell made seven of eight three-pointers in the upset of Michigan, but the Hoosiers have spent the week developing other offensive options.

"We felt like we have gotten better this week," Crean said. "I feel like we have gotten rest where we needed it. We competed at a very physical and high level where we needed it. And where we needed to tweak, add or put on the back burner with a couple things and then work on our skills and fundamentals to go with our cohesiveness on the floor. At the same time, we had enough time to scrimmage and go live to play through fatigue. That's the one thing - you don't want to fall out of a rhythm and the schedule is always going to force you to make adjustments to that rhythm. But the most important thing is that there is a pace to it and you are working hard to stay where you need to be that day and that week and then just go from there."

Pitino said he's a bit wary of Indiana coming off the Michigan win, because at some point, young talent begins to understand roles, and that could be the case for Indiana.

"They've got very good young talent, and you never want to play a talented, young team late, and that's what we're doing," he said. "They've got guys who are starting to figure it out. Noah Vonleh's got to be the best freshman in our conference. Yogi Farrell could be player in the year in our conference if they make a run. They've got nice complimentary pieces, Will Sheehey is a great veteran to have on the team and has gotten a lot better. So we understand they're going to be a very, very bought team. We've always respected their talent, and Coach Crean's ability to get these guys better. He does as unbelievable a job as anyone of preparing well, and he's had a week to prepare for us."

In an extended interview with WDRB on Friday, portions of which will air in the coming days, Pitino said one critical element to building the program will be winning at home. He said Williams Arena presents a potentially significant home-court advantage. It's an old venue, but one Pitino has embraced. He'd like to see a new practice facility built at Minnesota, but doesn't want to lose the charm and history of Williams Arena, with its raised court.

"We've got to establish ourselves at home," Pitino said. "And we've got a chance to do that here. There are many things working for us in Minnesota. We have a great situation. But it's a very difficult league."

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