For the first time since 2008, No. 14 IU will appear in the Maui Invitational, arguably the highest-profile tournament played during the nonconference portion of the college basketball season. The Hoosiers will play three games in three days as they’ll be forced to battle fatigue, the transcontinental time change and power conference opponents.
The tournament bracket matches IU (3-0) up against Wake Forest (2-1) on Monday in the first round. The Demon Deacons, guided by former University of Kansas star Danny Manning, suffered their first loss of the season on Wednesday against Richmond despite posting a season-high shooting percentage and dominating the boards.
“They are very, very physical,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “They are relentless on the glass.”
Wake Forest owns a plus-17.4 rebounding advantage, on average, through its first three contests. Manning’s squad grabbed 59 rebounds in a win against UMBC, the most in half a decade for the Deacons.
Senior forward Devin Thomas is the ACC’s active leader in career rebounds and ranks as the second-leading returning rebounder in the conference.
“We have to control the boards,” IU senior guard Nick Zeisloft said. “We have to win the paint game. Those are two keys, but it is just going to be us playing together as one unit.”
Playing in Maui has provided IU with an opportunity to further develop its team chemistry. The players have rarely left each other’s side since their last game, Crean said.
After defeating Creighton in the Gavitt Tipoff Games on Thursday night, the Hoosiers went home briefly before leaving at 4:30 a.m. Friday for Hawaii. They have since had the chance to visit the beach, attend a tournament-sponsored luau and try on sunglasses from Maui Jim, the tournament’s sponsor.
“Most importantly, they have had a chance to take it in, whether it's getting in the water or just walking around or go down to the shops and those kinds of things,” Crean said. “They are having a good time."
Sophomore guard Robert Johnson said it’s critical for the players to focus on the task at hand, given the environment in Maui.
“It is easy to get distracted with the beach and the perfect weather but when we are in the gym, we have to focus in and prepare to win,” he said.
While the Deacons are without senior point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, the team’s leading returning scorer who is currently sidelined with a broken foot, they’re not without offensive weapons.
Freshman guard Bryant Crawford and Thomas are tied for the team lead in scoring at 17 points per game, which accounts for nearly half of the team’s 83 points per game scoring average.
Crawford has scored 21 in each of his last two games and leads Wake Forest with a 50 percent shooting clip on his 12 3-point attempts.
Three other Deacons average double figures per game, including forward Dinos Mitoglou, who had a 14-point, 11-rebound effort against Richmond.
Wake Forest has excelled at getting to the free throw line under college basketball’s new rule changes, something IU has struggled with early in the season. In three games, the Deacons have gone to the charity stripe 101 times (compared to 44 for IU), where they’re connecting at nearly a 70 percent rate for an average of 23 made free throws per game.
Crean said his team’s defensive focus will be keeping Wake Forest out of the paint in half-court sets, while keeping pace with the Deacons when they elect to push the pace.
“They run the break effectively but selectively when they go,” he said. “But they do a great job of getting the ball inside. They are really, really good at getting you into a half-court game, keeping good spacing to attack you in a high-low situation and then they are relentless on the glass."