Crean talks Illinois

Indiana coach Tom Crean looks ahead to Thursday's matchup with Illinois and talks about what Indiana will have to do well to move on to Friday's quarterfinal game against top-seeded Michigan.

Tom Crean has had plenty to say this week as Indiana prepares to meet Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday at Noon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The winner will play top-seeded Michigan at Noon on Friday.

Crean spoke on Monday's Big Ten weekly teleconference and then again Wednesday afternoon in a media session with the Indiana media at Assembly Hall.

Here are some of the highlights of Crean's remarks.

Crean was asked if it's important to not let Illinois be able to control the tempo in a game like this.

"More or less,'' Crean said. "I think they have probably had some days where they haven't shot it like they would like to. Also, they've had some games where they've really gotten out and played. I think like a lot of teams in this league, they want to control the pace and sometimes the slower the better for them. But, I think they can play a lot of different ways. The bottom line is, they do a really good job of spacing the court. Kendrick Nunn is absolutely lethal in the corner right now. He's always been a good corner player. I think he's 60 percent from three over his last 5 games. They are ever improving because they have so many different guys that can score. You have to know exactly where Jon Ekey is anytime he's in the game. Joseph Bertrand can beat you from three, he can beat you on the drive, he can beat you on the offensive board. They've done a pretty good job of controlling the tempo and being opportunistic. There are times they have run more and doing even more in transition. Everything starts with the ball-screen when preparing for them because they do so much with it."

He was asked a similar question on the Big Ten call, too. There he was asked what Illinois has done of late to be so successful on defense.

"I think they are just trying to control tempo,'' Crean said. "They are much like Ohio State in that they create a lot of turnovers with the way if you're loose with the basketball. If you drive it into traffic, they make you pay for that. They are very strong defensively. They are opportunistic with their running game. The bottom line is that they are making it hard for you to get good looks and they expose you if you over-handle. And they are rebounding at a high rate. Those are the things that stand out the most to me."

Crean was asked why Rayvonte Rice has been such a tough matchup for the Hoosiers. Rice scored 28 the first time the teams played on New Year's Eve in Champaign and then had 20 against IU in the second meeting of the season at Assembly Hall. Rice has only scored over 20 points in two other Big Ten games this season.

"Yes, we don't have one guy that you would look at and say ‘That's a really good matchup for Rice','' Crean said. "You have to be very, very good at what you are trying to take away from that player. You have to have help, but at the same time you can't over-help in this league, because so much of the winning in this league comes down to who's making shots. I think that's why there is so much parity in this league. Everyone has got shot makers - guys that can get to the rim, guys that have good two-point percentages, guys that have good three-point percentages, guys off the bench that can make shots. That's been the one type of player that we've struggled with more than any other type of player - that bigger wing that is really strong and powerful and can get to the rim."

Crean was asked what he thought had led to the Illini's late season surge. Illinois is 4-1 in its last five games with the only loss coming at home to Michigan.

"I think the gameat Penn State really got them in a good spot because they changed the lineup and some of the younger guys like Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill came in and did a fantastic job,'' Crean said. "Kendrick Nunn is playing outstanding. For a guy that people at the beginning of the Big Ten season may not have been as locked into, I think you are now. I don't think there's any question about that. But at the same time, guys like Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams, (Nnanna) Egwu, (Joseph) Bertrand, (Jon) Ekey, the leaders of their team, are playing at a pretty good level too. So I think the bottom line is they know how to win. They know what it takes to win. They know what their defense is capable of. They're getting good shots. Kendrick Nunn, with more minutes, provides just a little bit more explosiveness to their game that creates things for other people. The way he plays is he is a very, very high-energy type of player and a lot of similarities, in my mind, to Victor Oladipo. Kendrick's offense is ahead of where Victor's was at the same age. No question about it. Bottom line, they just keep improving just like everybody else in this league is trying to do."

As for his own team, Crean was asked about why Troy Williams appears to be coming on late in the season. Williams scored 18 last week against Nebraska on Wednesday and followed it up with a 16-point effort on the road Saturday at Michigan. He was named the Big Ten freshman of the week this week.

"I think he is just letting the game come to him,'' Crean said. "He's attacking the basket and his footwork is good right now, which is the most important thing, because it's usually very good in practice but sometimes he gets sped up a little bit in the games. He's doing a good job without the basketball, which is really important. I think the key is that he continues to not try to take the ball into traffic and try to make something happen that's not there but to look for the ball, to move well without the ball, to use the entire court. He's a guy that can run the floor at a high level. He's a guy that can play out of the corners and the wings. He's getting better at handling the ball. I think that's the most important thing. He's getting better because his skill level continues to go up because of his work ethic. I think that's the one thing that's really jumped. He is spending more and more time on the court away from practice and getting better that way, which I think is really important. He's got a really good spirit and he's gaining confidence all the time and we hope it can keep up the rest of the season."

Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch


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