Guards key to Hoosier resurgence
Once a luxury for his transition-heavy game plan, injuries to freshman Maurice Creek and sophomore Matt Roth have thinned out the backcourt and have shifted IU’s offensive focus.
After losing its best scorer and outside shooter to injury, IU (7-8, 1-2) is placing more stake in making the smart play going into its 9 p.m. contest against Michigan. Where Crean once emphasized pushing the ball up the court and getting quick shots, he’s now making sure his team manages possessions and gets open looks.
“There’s no question that as a coach I sense a lack of depth in the backcourt,” Crean said. “Certainly, when you take Maurice (Creek) and Matt (Roth) out with what they bring. But, at the same time, our ability to make decisions and having decision-makers come off the bench, we can’t have a problem there.”
For the first time since Creek’s injury, Crean acknowledged IU missed his quick release and ability to create his own shot after a 79-54 loss to Ohio State.
At that point, IU had already faced and defeated Michigan 71-65 in a Dec. 31 contest. What kept IU together in that game was its frugal ball handling.
The Hoosiers totaled only nine turnovers in their last game against Michigan. Because of that performance, they have the opportunity to register the first Big Ten sweep of a team under Crean.
“We’ve got to have more of a self-discipline now with some of these decisions we’re making with the basketball,” Crean said.
Roth was lost to injury only two games into the season, and Creek had begun to blossom until he was sidelined by a season-ending knee injury in a Dec. 28 contest IU won 90-52.
He averaged 16.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists, and he is still tied for total points with sophomore guard and second-leading scorer Verdell Jones despite missing three games.
In Creek’s absence, IU guards have improved most numbers – but that hasn’t necessarily meant better play. The two conference games IU lost saw junior guard Jeremiah Rivers tally 10 turnovers, and Jones wasn’t far off with eight of his own.
Because of the unpredictable nature of college basketball, Crean said his team has to bring players to the floor that will make unclouded decisions and minimize mistakes.
“Shooting, you never know where that’s going to be,” Crean said. “You never know where foul trouble’s going to be, you never know if you’re going to make shots, if you’re going to make 3s, but you have to be able to make decisions.”
Senior Devan Dumes and freshman Jordan Hulls have each taken on some of the load and improved their numbers in the past three games.
Jones said Dumes’ confidence and persistence on the court is going to help an IU backcourt that is down two players who made significant contributions.
“He’s feisty. He’s strong,” he said. “He does whatever it takes to win – getting defensive stops, his offense is starting to come back, and he’s going to mean a lot to this team in the future.”
Hulls had a first-half performance reminiscent of Creek, in which he scored 11 of IU’s first 15 points against Illinois. But the guard said he was still feeling his way out in a physical league after IU’s 66-60 loss.
“It’s way more physical in the Big Ten,” he said. “Even in the games before this, it was way more physical than high school ever was. And that’s why we get in the weight room. That’s why we lift.”
Hulls will not be the only player in need of some strength and sensibility when handling the ball, Crean said.
“There’s not a guy on our team that doesn’t need to get better at making decisions with the basketball,” he said.