BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Indiana coach Tom Crean is done talking about legal issues, dismissals or the most recent roster makeover. He’s done talking about the last two roller-coaster seasons, too.
At least, that’s his plan as the Nov. 13 season opener against Eastern Illinois nears. Crean is focusing on the next chapter in the school’s proud basketball legacy — turning the program back into a Big Ten title contender and a national powerhouse.
“We moved on from that a long time ago and we’re just trying to get better,” he said when asked about the turbulent offseason. “They’re resilient guys.”
Crean needs more than resilience to appease an impatient fan base.
The Hoosiers have only won five NCAA tournament games since 2007, haven’t reached the Sweet Sixteen since 2013 or advanced beyond the regional semifinals since 2002, when they lost in the championship game.
Maybe this will be the season all that changes.
Crean is looking for more consistency from forward Troy Williams and guard James Blackmon Jr., better decision-making out of guards Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Robert Johnson, and an instant impact from two key freshmen, 6-foot-10 center Thomas Bryant and 6-7 forward Juwan Morgan.
On paper, it appears as if the Hoosiers might finally have the crucial components in place.
The athletic Williams improved his 3-point shooting and defense. After proving they could score at the college level, Blackmon and Johnson have worked on their ball-handling. Bryant and Morgan give the Hoosiers a size dimension they’ve been lacking Cody Zeller left early for the NBA in 2013.
But even with all those pieces, there’s no assurance Indiana can solve this puzzle.
Blackmon is returning from summer surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Bryant has been limited in practice because of a sore arch in his foot and strep throat, and Morgan may be pressed into more minutes than expected after Crean booted three players off the team for trouble off the court, including two key contributors in forwards Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Emmitt Holt.
“I do feel like there will be more minutes,” Morgan said. “I just have to become better as far as setting screens, getting other people open, getting the offensive boards, getting us extra possessions especially with such a short line, now that we have a few more dismissals.”
And a fresh start.
Here are some other things to watch this season:
BRYANT’S PROGRESSION: Crean likes the prized recruit’s attitude and willingness to learn. He says he’s humble and asks lots of questions. But the injury and illness limited him to only about seven live practices before Saturday’s debut at Assembly Hall. Bryant’s development will be one of the keys to this season.
SCORING BIG: Indiana was one of the most entertaining teams in the nation last season and cracked the nation’s top 20 in scoring at 77.4 points per game. If anything, that number should go up. Indiana returns its top five scorers and Williams’ improved perimeter game could put more pressure on opponents.
DE-FENSE: While Indiana led the league in scoring last season, it also allowed a league-high 71.7 points. The toughest job Crean may have is convincing a team filled with NBA hopefuls — three of whom considered leaving early last spring — that their path to success will likely come down to playing defense.
THE NEWCOMERS: Six players left the program during the offseason, three via transfer in addition to three booted off. Crean took advantage by adding size, physicality and depth to a team that has lacked all three. Adding forward Max Bielfeldt, a grad student who played for Michigan and will be eligible immediately, also gives Indiana more experience and Crean his deepest front line in three years.
TURNOVER TURNAROUND: Indiana finished 10th in the Big Ten last season in turnover margin (minus-0.82) and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (plus-1.2). Both numbers must improve this season.