Tipoff: North Florida at Indiana, 7:30 p.m. tonight
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BLOOMINGTON – Tom Crean's venting was over. He had no time to single out transgressions and criticize players. His Indiana coaching point had been made in the aftermath of Tuesday's loss at Syracuse.
Message sent and received.
Now, amidst a Friday snowstorm that dumped 10 inches around Assembly Hall, Crean's message was clear:
There was a North Florida team to prepare for, improvement to stress and resolve to build.
“We've had a good couple of days,” Crean said. “We're very young and very inexperienced, without a great understanding of what it takes to get better. We need to focus on the things we can control.
“There's a lot of hunger here. They want to get right back at it. Being through that, we'll be that much better when we get in that kind of environment again, which we will.”
That won't be tonight. IU (6-2) plays four of its final five non-conference games at Cream 'n Crimson-friendly Assembly Hall, with North Florida (5-5) up tonight. The objective is not just to win all five, but win them well, something that didn't happen at Syracuse.
“Everybody realized we're capable of more,” Crean said. “There has not been a lot of time of rehashing. It's been more, this is what need to do to get better.
“This is a prideful group. They want to be successful.”
Success focuses on two key elements: take better care of the ball, play faster.
“We had too many turnovers, too many at the worst time,” Crean said about the Syracuse loss. “We can't string those together. That's part of the learning process.
“We don't want to slow down. We want to play faster, but we have to take care of the ball, and have good decision making.”
Crean's patience was tested to the limit in the second half at Syracuse, when a 33-33 tie became a 69-52 defeat.
In the aftermath Crean was as subtle as a head butt, calling it “one of the poorest displays of fight and communication that I've ever seen,” then saying he was “disgusted with the lack of leadership and unbelievably disappointed in the lack of fight in the second half.”
He also said that, “I know they'll come back, work and get better. Hopefully these guys will have a taste in their mouths that they want to get rid of quickly.”
The Hoosiers look to bounce back in a big way. They are 23-point favorites over North Florida, and haven't lost consecutive games since losing three straight in January of 2012.
IU's Syracuse disappointment reflects its youth (two freshmen starters, seven of its top 10 players either freshmen or sophomores) and well as its overall poor outside shooting (28.1 percent from three-point range).
“The youth part of this is we have this talent, but everybody is trying to get comfortable and understand what they can do,” Crean said. “Well, when you don't demand the ball in practice, when you don't talk the way you need to talk in practice, when you're not as aggressive as you need to be in practice, it's going to come out, and it's going to come out in tough situations.
“We've got a long season. This is what it's like coaching youth, but we're certainly not going to accept it.”
Crean saw Syracuse as a measuring stick for Big Ten play. Do well in one of college basketball's toughest environments against one of the country's best teams, and it bodes well for conference performance.
Do poorly and Crean knows all too well what can happen. He lived it during his first three struggling seasons at IU while rebuilding from NCAA sanctions.
“We are making improvements, but (after) eight games I would have really liked to have been able to have this team have a measuring stick of what it means to play against a top-5 national contender -- to really have a view of where we are. The view we have (after Tuesday night), I don't like very much. I hope it's not accurate.”
As far as shooting accuracy, sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell is, by far, IU's best three-point threat, at 41.2 percent, which is basically the same wherever he shoots (41.7 percent overall).
Senior swingman Will Sheehey, who spends as much extra shooting time as any Hoosier, isn't getting rewarded. He's at 21.7 percent beyond the arc. Overall, he's at 47.4 percent.
Evan Gordon, Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh are a combined 3-for-23 from three-point range.
Crean is convinced the outside shooting will improve, mostly because the Hoosiers put so much time on it, both in and out of practice.
“We'll get better shooting the ball. I don't think there is any doubt about that. Our teams always do.”
North Florida arrives at Assembly Hall in bill-paying mode, which means it gets to play at some of the nation's best basketball arenas for guaranteed money.
It also means it loses a lot.
The Ospreys have lost at Florida 77-69, at Ohio State 99-64 and at Alabama 76-48. Still ahead is a trip to Michigan State.
North Florida is led by 6-6 forward Travis Wallace, who averages 12.4 points and 6.9 rebounds. He shoots 58.1 percent from the field. Dallas Moore, a 6-1 guard, averages 10.3 points. Beau Beech, a 6-8 guard, averages 9.2 points and 3.2 rebounds. Chris Davenport, a 6-8 forward, averages 6.8 points and 5.9 rebounds.
The Ospreys, who were 13-19 last season, project to finish in the lower half of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“They're very creative offensively,” Crean said. “They run great stuff. They get great movement. They've played in a lot of big games.”
Crean said the Hoosiers don't have time to learn all of North Florida's offensive sets and plays, so they've focused on general concepts.
“We have to have an understanding of their spacing and know their shooters,” he said.
In the end, it's less about North Florida and more about the Hoosiers.
“The biggest thing is on-going communication,” Crean said. “You have high expectations for your upperclassmen, but communication involves all five on the floor. It's not letting your confidence waiver. Woe is me can't kick in when you're not making shots.
“Leadership is helping guys -- sometimes nurturing, sometimes more demonstrative. It's always on-going.”