The tone of the Inside Indiana Basketball with Tom Crean radio show could hardly have been much more different Monday than it had been the week before.
The previous two weeks, Crean had spent the early part of the show discussing injuries that put two of his top scorers out of action – a season-ending knee injury for Maurice Creek two weeks ago and a knee injury of indefinite length for Verdell Jones last week.
Last Monday, the injury news was compounded by the general gloom and discomfort of dissecting one of IU's poorest performances of the season, a blowout loss the day before at Iowa.
Crean said last week that he hoped the Hoosiers play at Iowa was an aberration, but much of the talk in Bloomington was of disappointment in Indiana not even coming close in what seemed to many like one of its best chances for a conference win.
That gloomy talk has been swept away by what some Hoosier fans are calling two of the most exciting Indiana basketball games in years.
"What a difference a week makes," host Don Fischer exclaimed on Monday's show in talking about Indiana's win over 20th-ranked Illinois and its overtime loss at 25th-ranked Michigan State. "The effort and competitiveness have re-energized this fan base with almost everyone looking forward to the week to come and the second half of this Big Ten season."
That optimistic mood held up throughout the show, including the comments and questions from people attending the show and listening on the radio.
Crean said his players are maturing. They are learning about what it takes to win in the Big Ten level, he said, and how they must be accountable to each other in out-hustling opponents, beating them on the boards and playing with spirit and energy every minute.
One of the most important areas of growth since the Iowa game, he said, was that the team has been able to go through cold spells on offense and not let it affect its level of play on defense.
"We learned a lot about ourselves this week," Crean said. "We have to build on it."
Crean praised many of the individual players on his team and the team as a whole. He said that while the team's confidence is still fragile, its players are not fragile people.
"They're growing from young guys into manhood, into what it takes to be competitors at this level and I'm really proud of them," he said. "They were raised well by their families. They're good guys who get along well and are starting to bond."
Among others, Crean praised Tom Pritchard, saying he is easily the team's best interior defender. He said Will Sheehey is the next best interior defender.
Freshmen Sheehey and Victor Oladipo both played well at Michigan State, Crean said, and are learning to use their speed and jumping ability to drive straight to the basket, which is what he wants them to do.
"They both had their moments of brilliance," Crean said. "They both had their moments where they were freshman. Will is really entering into the mix now. He's really getting comfortable."
Crean said IU needed Matt Roth to hit some 3s in Sunday's game and Roth had come through for the team.
The Hoosier coach also praised the play of team leaders Jordan Hulls, Jeremiah Rivers and Christian Watford.
"Jeremiah has done an excellent job," Crean said. "His defense is outstanding. He is shooting the ball with confidence and he had missed one free throw in conference play, going into yesterday's game."
A caller asked Crean what he had said to Rivers while putting his arm around him after Sunday's game in which the senior missed three of four late free throw attempts. Crean said he'd told Rivers there was no way IU would have been in the game without his strong play, that he wouldn't change a thing about having him on the line at the end and he hopes Rivers will have a chance to do it again.
The last caller to the show thanked Crean for the excitement of the last two games.
"It's been a long, long time for me - and I don't miss a game no matter what - since I've really enjoyed watching the games like this," the caller said. "It almost brings a tear to my eye when I think about where we're headed."
Crean praises Hoosiers' growing maturity
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