Big Ten Notes: Rebuilding a Tradition

With only one senior, five walk-ons and plenty of sanctions, Indiana head coach Tom Crean starts the rebuilding process at Indiana. Plus, Purdue the favorites, Big Ten teams rebuilding and Michigan State's Korie Lucious.

CHICAGO - After enduring months of a major housecleaning project, questions and uncertainty about sanctions, scandals and lack of scholarships, the only thing new-head coach Tom Crean was upset about was not being able to use his Brewer tickets.

"We had a 20-pack of season tickets the last three years and I never got to use my seats once this year," Crean joked. "We loved living in Mequon. We loved it, our kids loved it and we didn't leave Marquette for any other reason other than the opportunity to go to Indiana. I've never lived anywhere where I was unhappy and I think Bloomington is going to be great."

Crean, 41, coached nine seasons at Marquette, leading the Golden Eagles to a 190-96 record and five trips to the NCAA Tournament, including a trip to the 2005 final four. Now, Crean takes over a school that has won five national champions and 20 conference titles. That is the tradition of Indiana.

The reality of the Hoosiers is Crean is the school's fifth head coach this decade, hasn't won a conference title since 2002 and is dealing with a multitude of NCAA and school sanctions under previous head coach Kelvin Sampson.

"We're in a tumultuous state. The program is great. We just have to get through the state we are in right now," Crean said. "There is no gauge of anybody who has been through anything like this, so we just have to take it for what it is. This is a great time for these guys to learn. We can not take anything for granted. (Still), it was worse then I thought it was. I certainly went into it with my eyes wide open."

The most noticeable difference for Indiana this year is the roster. Losing freshman Eric Gordon to the NBA and senior D.J. White to graduation, only two players (senior Kyle Taber and sophomore Brett Finkelmeier) return from last season and return a whopping 1.6 points per game combined. Indiana has just one senior and five walk-ons.

"The biggest thing is playing through fatigue. How we end up and how we progress is not the focus right now," Crean said. "The focus right now is how we can get better that day, how many things can we learn that day and apply the next day. That's the biggest thing we want to get accomplished right now."

A one-time Michigan State assistant under current head coach Tom Izzo, Crean still talks to his former mentor about all big decisions and gave Crean his endorsement to take the job when the former-Marquette coach gave him a call.

"We talk all the time about everything," he said. "He's been great with me through everything and this has been no different. He's one of those few people in life that I wouldn't make a major decision without conferring with him. We talk about his program, my program and the game in general."

From Izzo's perspective, he's happy for Crean to have such an opportunity but not looking forward to having to play his good friend twice a year. The two have only faced each other once, a 61-49 victory Spartan victory in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament.

"We are best friends in the business and I am not looking forward to that," Izzo said. "At the same time, I would rather play against guys that I know are doing it the right way. Anytime I have to play my friends, I would say it's part of the business and our friendship is strong enough to survive that.

"They got the right guy for the job. He's going to get the job done. He loves the game, he's going to hold guys accountable, he's a good recruiter and he's going to be a thorn in my side in the future."

Hummel Preseason Player of the Year

Sophomore Robbie Hummel knew the Boilermakers were going to surprise some people. Despite having a bevy of young players, Purdue managed to win 25 games, including going 15-2 in conference, and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"We were fortunate to come together and have a good run in the Big Ten," Hummel said. "We played some of our best basketball during the conference season last year."

Bringing back all five starters from a season ago, Purdue was the hands-down favorite to win the Big Ten conference for the first time since 1996.

"I think we always have expectations and this year, we believe that we should win the Big Ten," Hummel said. "It's a realistic goal for us to win the league and our goal is to make a final four. Those are our two goals for the season."

Hummel will be a big part of that equation. Along with preseason all-conference member E'Twaun Moore, who averaged 12.9 points per game last season, Hummel was a consistent as they come in all areas last season, scoring 11.4 points while averaging 6.1 rebounds and 2.55 assists per game, which made his a deserving recipient of the conference's preseason player of the year.

"He gets it, he performed and put up numbers. If you do that, you should be rewarded," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "It's not because you're a great high school player. He wasn't picked that last year. He performed, got it done and is well-deserved, very much so for a freshman. Now he's a sophomore, a year older, stronger, smarter, at least that's what Matt (Painter) is hoping. He's a good representative of the Big Ten."

While Hummel will be leading Purdue on the court, head coach Matt Painter will be calling the shots from the sideline. A finalists for the 2008 Naismith Award and the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year award, Painter has led Purdue to back-to-back 20 wins seasons and is establishing a home-court dominance, as Purdue is 32-2 at home the last two years.

"His toughness rubs off on us," Hummel said. "We are a very tough group of guys that play hard all the time, which is a very positive characteristic of our team. The defensive side of the ball is what we take pride in."

Pushing Forward

While Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin are top ranked in the conference, the middle to bottom end of the conference continues to get stronger, making every game in the Big Ten a challenge.

Guiding Minnesota to the largest single season turnaround in school history, Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith helped the Gophers improve 11 games last season, helping Minnesota finish 20-9. Although losing its top three scorers from last season, Smith brings back junior Lawrence Westbrook and sophomore Blake Hoffarber, who hit a deep three-pointer to stun Indiana at the Big Ten Tournament.

"That is something that is inspiring and motivating for our players," Smith said of that game. "More important than that is how we competed against each individual team. Players' expectations are always higher and our players' expectations are high this year. We expect them to improve and we can build off that because it was an emotional, signature win against a very good Indiana team. We have our team goals with some long range goals and some short team goals of what we need to achieve today in order to see the big picture."

In addition to Minnesota, Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis is looking forward to see how the youth of last season develop into this season. The Nittany Lions, many who thought would make a big impact in the conference, went through a plethora of injuries last season, losing the 18 points, 11 rebounds a game of Geary Claxton for the last 15 games of the season. As devastating as that injury was for DeChellis, the injury allowed the head coach to integrate some other younger parts into his offense.

"We didn't have him for basically the entire second half of the season, so we made the adjustment last year throughout the season without him," DeChellis said. "He was an integral part of what we were trying to do and we had to re-look at things and still win some things. I think that's important that the kids have already made the adjustment."

Penn State gets its junior forward Jamelle Cornley back after he missed the end of last season with a back injury. Cornley and his 12.1 points per game combined with senior Danny Morrissey and sophomore Talor Battle will give Penn State a solid balance of youth and experience.

"The young kids banded together and won some games, which makes them look forward to last season," DeChellis said. "We want to be as good as any other team in the league and I think we are getting closer. We are pretty focused and hungry and the young guys knew they were in a tough situation and fought through it. The last 10 games we went 5-5 starting four freshmen. They are ready to take that next step."

Milwaukee Pride

It's a rarity for a top-notch Wisconsin high school prep star to not attend Wisconsin or Marquette but Izzo landed a solid recruit in Milwaukee's Korie Lucious. Ranked as a four-star recruit and the seventh-best point guard in the nation, Lucious' strength of his game is his jump shot and his perimeter game, which was one of the big reasons Izzo because attracted to him.

Since he's gotten on campus though, Lucious has dazzled not only with his shot, but with his speed and his physical nature, something that is going to give the Spartans a big boost this season.

"He's small but he competes, he's quick and he's tough. He is a street fighter and he's not afraid to get his nose dirty," Izzo said. "Only a couple weeks in, he's exceeded what I thought he would be in this age. If he continues when the game starts, we'll see but he picks up things really well and is one of the smarter players I have. I really like Korie and I think he can help us this year. He's going to have a heck of a career this year and how much of it is going to come this year? More than I thought."

Quotable

"There was one incident I was upset about when Tucker dunked and Harris made that gesture toward the bench I've gotten to really like Devin Harris. I've ran into a bunch all the time. It just got to be the situation of the game and it just happened. Everybody has a different way of doing things at the end and I respect that now. I have no issues with Bo that it is so overblown, but they've beaten us. I am sure our fans don't like that, but I think he's done a great job and I wouldn't be afraid to tell you if I did disagree. I think we have become friends through the things that have gone on and I think we have more respect now that we are on the NCA and NABC board."

– Izzo on the so-called feud with Bo Ryan.


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