Indiana opens 2015-16 with Eastern Illinois

Following good news received Thursday evening, Indiana opens its regular season Friday night against Eastern Illinois at Assembly Hall.

On the eve of their 2015-16 regular season opener, head coach Tom Crean and the rest of his coaching staff got good news with the commitment of 2016 forward De'Ron Davis. 

Now, their attention shifts to Eastern Illinois, which the Hoosiers will face Friday at 7 p.m. at Assembly Hall to begin the regular season.

"I know we're excited to play against Eastern," Crean said. "A lot of respect for Jay Spoonhour. His father, Charlie, was one of the greatest coaches of all time and was always good to me. I'd call him a personal friend. Jay has done a fantastic job in his own right as a coach." 

Last season, Jay led Eastern Illinois to its first postseason apperance since 2001. Playing in the Tournament, the Panthers concluded their 2015 campaign with a second-round loss to Evansville, which would go on to win that tournament.

However, most of the starters from that team, whose postseason appearance was the third ever in the school's history as a Division I program, are gone. Eastern Ilinois brought nine newcomers - six freshman, two junior college players and one graduate transfer - into the program this year, making it one of the newest rosters in the country. 

Indiana returned three of its five starters from last year's NCAA tournament team and gained valuable experience this preseason with two exhibition games against Bellarmine and Ottawa (Canada). 

Both opponents excelled at ball movement and spacing the floor, which Crean also credited as a strength of Eastern Illinois.

"For us, it's going to be a matter of staying principled on our transition D, our halfcourt defense, getting the ball out quickly and building on things from the first two games, and making a much more concerted effort of going through the paint with a lot more of what we do. We're looking forward to it," Crean said.

Expected to have one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country, something to keep an eye on is the lineup Crean uses in the regular season opener.

One of Crean's goals for the season is to establish two-deep depth with the roster, which means players like guards Nick Zeisloft and Robert Johnson could end up not playing the same minutes as they did last season when IU used a much smaller lineup.

Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams, Max Bielfeldt and Thomas Bryant made up the starting lineup In the two exhibition games, but that big, traditional lineup isn't something Crean has said he isn't "married" to. 

Johnson said it's the beginning of the season, so he tries not to get too caught up in the lineups. 

"As far as me, I look at it the same," said Johnson, who started last season. "I try to come in and do some of the same things I did when I was starting, give energy, play defense, look for opportunities to score, things like that. So my mindset really hasn't changed." 

Continuing where it left off against its quality exhibition opponents, Friday will provide another learning opportunity for the Hoosiers. 

"I think our guys are excited," Crean said. "And at the same time, they know they have to get a lot better, and the film shows that." 

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