Indiana coach Tom Crean took a number of calls on his radio show on Monday night that were arm-chair coach-ish. Some he indulged, some he didn’t.
One caller did ask an interesting question about Crean’s philosophy on defending ball screens, pointing out that IU players tend to play over the screen instead of above them.
“I think we’re trying to do a lot of going over the screen,” Crean said. “I think what we’re trying to do is read what we’re gonna do at the point of the screen. The screens move a lot all over, especially in this league, they move. You want to get to the screen. If the screen is low, you want to go over the top of it. If they run the screen high at the point of the screen, then we want to trail it. We’re not a big, what we would call, a trail team, or a lock-and-trail team. We want to gap it as much as we possibly can.”
Another caller asked about the team’s issues covering screen-and-rolls and said he noticed the team getting caught double-teaming the ball and allowing the screener to be open during the roll to the basket.
“Actually, we play the pick-and-rolls a little bit differently,” Crean said. “There’s times when we want to do different things. What your referencing is a blitz, which is the trap of the ball. We try to rotate with the backside defender, especially when it’s a high pick-and-roll situation and there’s two guys on the right, one guy on the left, then we would rotate the bottom guy over on the right which is part of a two-man side there. We want to do a few different things to make sure that we do cover the roll man. It is something that we actually do talk about. It is actually something that we do try to make sure we don’t give up those kind of layups. But at the same time, we want to attack the basketball. We want to play pick-and-rolls different ways.
Crean was also asked about his teams deflection totals going down. Deflections, as referenced earlier this year, are a non-standardized stat used by Crean to measure defensive activity. They are awarded for steals and blocks and such, but also for taking charges, causing 35-second-violations or other turnovers and for simply getting even a finger-tip on the ball while on defense in a situation other than a rebound.
Crean pointed out that, in conference play, deflections are generally much harder to come by.
“We’re pretty active,” Crean said. “We can be more active. I think I’ve made that point. There’s no question we can be better with the basketball as far as trying to get deflections. it’s a very low-turnover league. There’s some very well-disciplined, well-schooled teams that really know how to pass the ball. We’ve had some really high games. We had 74 deflections against Butler. We had 80 against Stetson. When we’re in the mid-30s and above in this league, we’re pretty good. When we’re sitting there hovering around 31, 32, 33 it becomes a little more dicey for us. We’re working every day to make sure we’re better with our hands.”
Crean was also asked if his team tends to get more deflections in man-to-man or zone defense. He didn’t so much answer the question directly, but did defend the idea of switching defenses.
“The bottom line is we want to be active,” Crean said. “We want to make sure our defensive positioning is right. We want to make sure our hands are active. We want to make sure we have a heel-to relationship on the ball down toward the sideline as much as possible. When we’re mixing defenses, we’re more concerned about our activity. We’re concerned about our rotations. We’re concerned about our block outs. The deflections are certainly added bonuses to that. The same thing with man-to-man. You never want to get yourself in a position where you become a gambling, risk-taking team that there’s not a strategy to it. You don’t want to be risk-averse, but you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re rolling the dice so to speak on how you’re defending. The bottom line for us is we’re gonna mix our defenses, we’re going to mix our pick-and-roll coverages and we’re gonna mix a lot of things because that’s what we do.”
Crean also got a question about recruiting philosophy in terms of when he begins recruiting players. Considering that he took commitments from James Blackmon Jr. and Trey Lyles for the Class of 2014 before they played a high school game, that answer was obvious.
“We start really early,” Crean said. “… Our situation is one that you could embrace the recruiting at a young age or you can shy away from it. You shy away from it, you’re gonna be behind. We embrace it. For me, it’s a great chance to be able to evaluate players at a young age. It’s a great chance to be able to evaluate players at a young age. It’s a great opportunity when they get on campus to start to develop a relationship with them, and I think what happens is you really can start to formulate what they’re gonna need. It’s another voice academically. It really is. They have their families, they have their coaches, they have their counselors. … There’s not a player that within the second trip is not going to have a very inclusive meeting with Marnie Mooney our academic advisor and potentially Mattie White. … We think recruiting at a young age can be used the right way and can help bridge some gaps and at the same time, to watch how they grow and how they respond.”
There was one question Crean didn’t so much entertain. He asked why the Hoosiers don’t try to get the ball to Cody Zeller at the rim more instead of throwing him bounce passes in the post. As though giving him the ball at the rim is something that can be done easily on every play.
“Appreciate your comments,” Crean said, dismissing the question as politely as possible. “We’ll try to do better next time.”