Bloomington – With his team in the midst of a four-game losing skid, IU Coach Tom Crean knows exactly how he expects his team to respond at practice this week.
On the surface that might seem tough to do for a team that could very well be an underdog in every game it plays the rest of the season. But as the team continues its preparation for Wednesday night's match-up against No. 23 Michigan (11-3/1-1), Crean says that's the way it has to be if his young team hopes to show continued progress during the next three months.
"We treat it like every day has to be the most important day," Crean said Monday, two days after IU lost its Big Ten opener to Iowa 65-60. "The more you preach that and the more you live that, the more opportunity you have for your days to be that way. We have no trouble getting excited for practice and making it competitive."
The hope is that putting together substantive, competitive practices will help the Hoosiers (5-8/0-1) be competitive in their remaining 17 conference games. Indiana's ability to give itself a chance at Iowa was a positive sign for a team that had been beaten by an average of 21.5 points in its two non-conference road games (at Wake Forest, at Kentucky), but there is nothing that figures to come easily for Crean's team the rest of the way.
"We've tried to learn from our game this past Saturday at Iowa like we've tried to learn from so many others – take some things we did well and try to build on them, try to make the corrections from the things we didn't do so well," Crean said.
While the Hoosiers have made strides in some critical areas such as turnovers and rebounding as of late, there's nothing but time that will cure the Hoosiers' most glaring deficiency – experience. In Saturday's game at Iowa, the Hoosiers started four true freshmen along with first-year junior college transfer Devan Dumes. Even for the team's most productive players such as freshman forward Tom Pritchard, it's still a learning process as they go through their first season of college basketball.
"(Pritchard's) continuing to improve," Crean said. "Sometimes his numbers show it, and sometimes they don't. But so much of it for any younger player is continuing to understand that energy level you have to have on a daily basis."
Crean and his staff will continue to stress that during each and every practice, where the players are put into as many competitive situations as possible no matter what the drill. But the Hoosiers' first-year coach is already looking forward to the day where they don't have to always orchestrate the competition and be the ones responsible for making sure it is seen through.
"I think the next step for us will be when our players understand it's not the coaches that have to hold you accountable, but it's each other," Crean said. "As we continue to grow into that, we'll get better."
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