Indiana is back in Maui for the first time since 2008, and the outlook is far better this time around.
The last time the Hoosiers were in the Maui Invitational, Tom Crean was in his first season in Bloomington, and the cupboard was bare after Kelvin Sampson tore the program apart.
Indiana went 1-2 on the beautiful Hawaiian island in '08, beating host Chaminade by two points after two blowout losses to Notre Dame and St. Joe's.
This time, seven years later, the program is in a much better place, and expectations are soaring after Indiana's dominant 86-65 win over Creighton last Thursday night. The Hoosiers enter this week's Maui Invitational a perfect 3-0, and they are among the favorites to win the event.
They'll open with Wake Forest at 5 p.m. ET Monday. Indiana left Bloomington at 4:30 a.m. Friday, and the team spent the weekend adjusting to the five-hour time difference, enjoying the island, and preparing for Monday's game.
"They've rarely been apart since Thursday night," Crean said Sunday. "Getting acclimated to the time change, and spending time together. We've had great practice, and they've had a chance to see their families. Most importantly, they've had time to take it in. Whether they get in the water, whether they walk around, whether they go down to the shops ... no surfing training going on right now, though."
Wake Forest (2-1) isn't expected to have a great season, but the Demon Deacons do present challenges for the Hoosiers because of their style of play. Wake Forest is outrebounding its opponents by an average of 18 per game, and it is getting to the foul line 34 times per contest through three games. Those numbers have helped Wake rise to the 44th most efficient offense in the country, according to KenPom.com. The Demon Deacons rank 147th in defensive efficiency.
"They're so efficient in the lane," Crean said. "They're getting to the foul line so much. I don't know any team that's shooting 34 free throws a game after three games. They're great on the glass. This game is going to come down to being really smart on the perimeter defensively, understanding their personnel, not letting them pick us apart with the high-low offensive game, and not letting them get to the foul line."
Wake Forest has scored at least 78 points in all three games, but the Demon Deacons don't mind playing in the halfcourt. Their size figures to challenge the Hoosiers, even though they are much bigger this year than they were a year ago. Both Wake big men -- Devin Thomas (17.0 ppg, 13.0 rpg) and Konstantinos Mitoglou (13.0 ppg, 11.3 rpg) are averaging double-doubles.
"Very, very physical. Relentless on the glass," Crean said. "They run the break effectively and selectively. They do a great job of getting the ball inside. They're really, really good at getting you into a half-court game, keeping good spacing, and trying to attack you in a high-low situation. We've got to make the game go."
Freshman guard Bryant Crawford, a former Indiana recruiting target, is Wake Forest's other top weapon. He's averaging 17 points, 5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game, and he tried to put the team on his back in Wake's 91-82 loss to Richmond. Crawford had a team-high 21 points to go with 6 assists and 5 rebounds in 38 minutes.
The 6-foot-3 Crawford made 4-of-5 shots from beyond the arc against Richmond as well.
Given how dangerous Indiana is in transition, I would expect Wake Forest to play at a slower pace than normal, especially since the Demon Deacons just lot a shootout against Richmond. But the Hoosiers will do everything they can to speed the game up and force Wake to play from behind.
Wake also figures to do anything it can to get Thomas Bryant into early foul trouble, which would put Indiana both at a size and rebounding disadvantage. Bryant has been great so far for the Hoosiers, but he will be tested on Monday night.
"I think the main thing playing in an environment like this is that we have to focus in," sophomore guard Robert Johnson said. "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."
But that doesn't mean the Hoosiers aren't having fun.
"This is my first time out here, so I am going to live it up and go into the ocean, and enjoy the journey with my teammates."
Indiana would likely play No. 17 Vanderbilt on Tuesday if it beats Wake Forest. But Crean hasn't even thought about that yet.
"It's really easy to look at it as a 3-game tournament, but you've got to look at it as a game a day for three days," Crean said. "It's different."