Big Ten M5: 01.16.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 16th, 2013

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  1. Despite a valiant comeback effort that nearly resulted in a win at Assembly Hall, Minnesota ended up falling to Indiana in its first Big Ten loss on Saturday. The Gophers fell behind by 23 at halftime due to a slow start, and Tubby Smith said part of that was due to a lack of aggressiveness. The Indiana game wasn’t the only slow start Minnesota has had. The Gophers also got into an early hole against Illinois before coming back for an impressive win. They did the same against some inferior competition in non-conference season. Minnesota has the talent to hang with anyone in the country, but in games against top teams,the Gophers must make sure they are strong from the start.
  2. The Big Ten has some fairly active coaches on Twitter. Indiana’s Tom Crean tweets a lot of biblical passages while Nebraska’s Tim Miles tweets about his games at halftime. But don’t expect Tom Izzo to join Twitter any time soon as the Michigan State coach hates the social media platform. There are a lot of good quotes in that article from Izzo, who said he thinks his players listen to criticism more because of it. He has also had conversations with Derrick Nix, who searches his name after every game to retweet fans who criticized him during the game.
  3. In Tim Miles’ first season in Lincoln, nobody expected Nebraska to make much noise in the Big Ten. And while the Huskers have still yet to win a conference game, they have kept things close with both Michigan and Michigan State on the road, thanks to stellar defensive play. Tom Izzo came away impressed with Miles’ squad and said, “I don’t think anybody wants to play them home or away.” Even more impressive, Nebraska held its own against Michigan State without top player Brandon Ubel.
  4. Ohio State has struggled to score this year, and that was very evident at Illinois in a lopsided loss. The Buckeyes have been able to score in transition and have gotten points in the paint at times, but they don’t have consistent shooters. However, the defense was outstanding in their win over Michigan on Sunday and the offense was good enough. Aaron Craft frustrated Trey Burke and the Buckeyes did the same to freshman stars Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. The Wolverines admitted to noticing the pressure. Considering how inconsistent the offense is, Ohio State’s season outlook could depend on how the defense plays from here on out.
  5. When Wisconsin arrives at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Iowa will be facing the Big Ten’s lone undefeated team. That plus the prospect of playing a rival makes the game a good one, but an added emotional dimension will be in play, as well. The Hawkeyes will be honoring the legacy of former player Chris Street, who died in a car accident 20 years ago. Rick Brown of The Des Moines Register has a nice story on Street’s legacy, his family, and the impact he has left on the University of Iowa.
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Big Ten M5: 12.26.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 26th, 2012

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  1. It’s been hard to convince anyone who has watched or covered Hawkeye basketball for much of the past decade to jump onto the “Iowa is back” bandwagon just yet, and for good reason; the Hawkeyes have been inconsistent at best. But this year, after an 11-2 start, Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette is ready to jump on the bandwagon. The Hawkeyes have a very young team and have been inconsistent at times, but they have impressive wins against Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and they’ll be a tough out at home this year. The Big Ten slate starts off against Indiana at home and then with two on the road against Michigan and Michigan State, so it certainly won’t be an easy task to get to March. Still, with a Big Ten slate that is easier than most teams’ schedules in the conference, this may finally be the year Iowa returns to the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Non-conference basketball means cupcake season for the most part, and that has led to criticism of top teams like Indiana that play so many guarantee games in November and December. However, Terry Hutchins of the Indianapolis Star said that the criticism is misguided, because much of the reason for the easy schedule is revenue-driven. The Hoosiers need to make sure that they have 18 to 20 home games per year, and an easy way to do that is to pay teams a fee to come to Assembly Hall for a beatdown. That leads to more home games and more ticket sales, which is what non-conference games are all about. The Hoosiers always go to some early season non-conference tournament, play an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, and, this year, will have a very difficult Big Ten schedule. Playing a few cupcakes in the first two months of the season certainly isn’t something to get up in arms about.
  3. Minnesota has a history of starting fast in the non-conference season and then slumping at the start of Big Ten play, but this year’s Gophers have put together an impressive resume and look like the real deal. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently handed out a report card on Minnesota’s non-conference schedule, and a lot of the focus is on Trevor Mbakwe, a player who is starting to look like he did before last year’s ACL injury. He is gaining strength and could potentially re-enter the starting lineup which already features stars Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams. The Gophers have so much depth that this certainly looks like Tubby Smith’s best team yet in Minnesota. Now, with conference play about to start, we’ll get some more answers about a team that has a lot of potential but still also some unknowns.
  4. When eight-year-old Mackenzie Kelley found out that her favorite player, Penn State star Tim Frazier, might not be able to play next year if he isn’t granted a medical hardship waiver, she decided to take the matter up with Santa by asking him to put a good word in with the NCAA. Kelley is a diehard Penn State fan and has met Frazier a couple of times. After she met him initially at a preseason event, she met him again and was excited to find out that “out of all the people he meets he remembered me.” Frazier got a hold of the letter and thanked Mackenzie on Facebook; luckily for Mackenzie — and Frazier — the injury happened early enough in the season that Frazier should be back on the court next year, a gift from old St. Nick indeed.
  5. Derrick Nix has been asked to take on more of a leadership role for Michigan State this year after the departure of Draymond Green, and he’s still improving, as exhibited by a career high 25 points to go along with 11 rebounds in a win on Saturday against Texas. However, the area in which Nix has improved the most isn’t something you would expect from a man his size — free throws. Nix was a bad free throw shooter when he first got to MSU, but endless hours of practice has helped him become much better, improving from a 27 percent free throw shooter as a freshman to a 70 percent free throw shooter this season. Nix said that coach Tom Izzo would rather he was moving around more before practice, but he’s always at the free throw line practicing his shot, and it’s paid off for the Spartans in the long run.
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What Losing Out on Jabari Parker Means for Michigan State

Posted by KTrahan on December 21st, 2012

Michigan State went all in on the Jabari Parker sweepstakes, and after Parker announced yesterday that he would choose Duke over the Spartans, MSU coach Tom Izzo is left with quite the bind in the 2013 recruiting class. The Spartans have no commitments in the Class of 2013, mainly because they were banking on reeling in Parker, who could have been a program-changing recruit. Considering all the talent MSU has coming back next year — stars Gary Harris, Branden Dawsen and Keith Appling — on a very young team, and considering what Parker would have added to the equation, MSU would have been a sure-fire National Championship contender heading into the 2013-14 season. This team is still going to be very good, and Parker likely would have been a “one-and-done,” but that team could have been special and opened up more recruiting opportunities with future classes.

Top-rated Jabari Parker\'s decision will be heavily anticipated by several schools (chicagotribune)

Parker Chose Duke Over Michigan State and Others Yesterday

It’s not that Izzo cannot recruit five-stars — as MLive pointed out, he has already recruited five stars such as Zach Randolph, Kelvin Tolbert, Paul Davis and Shannon Brown — but Parker is in a league above those players. A recent injury has hurt his stock a little bit, but before that he was widely considered the best player in the country. Of course, star ratings are  not guarantees; there will always be recruiting busts and players who cannot break the barrier between good and great. However, anyone who has seen Parker play can attest that he has the potential to be one of the best in the game as a freshman.

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Big Ten M5: 12.14.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 14th, 2012

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  1. Michigan coach John Beilein isn’t scared to use his five highly-touted freshmen this year, and he solidified that this week when he said he would stick with a nine-man rotation, including all five of those rookies. Freshmen Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III will continue to start alongside Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan, but Caris LeVert, Mitch McGary, Spike Albrecht and Jon Horford will all see significant minutes, as well. The Wolverines have one of the deepest teams in the league, and with the freshmen living up to the hype so far, they have the potential to put a dangerous lineup on the court for the entire game.
  2. With so many new faces, Northwestern has been fairly inconsistent en route to a 7-3 start. The Wildcats won at Baylor, but have home losses to Maryland, Illinois-Chicago and Butler, with Texas State and Stanford coming to Evanston next week. Northwestern has spent the last four years on the NCAA Tournament bubble and fans are becoming restless about the team’s chances this year. CBS Chicago’s Dave Wischnowsky wonders how much more “close but no cigar” NU will accept, and whether coach Bill Carmody will be shown the door if things don’t turn around this season.
  3. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has been hitting the recruiting circuit hard recently, looking at top recruits Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Tyus Jones, among others, but the Spartans’ head coach isn’t a fan of such road trips. Izzo would like the NCAA to shorten the length of time in which coaches are able to evaluate recruits in order to allow coaches more time with their families. Coaches have very little time off from September to March, and a change in the rules would also allow them more time to spend with their teams during the season. Izzo admits that his words go “on deaf ears,” but he thinks teams could get the same players even if the rules were changed.
  4. Iowa has three freshmen in its starting lineup this year, which means that some veterans have had to embrace bench roles. Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe, in particular, have given up playing time for the newcomers, but they’re OK with it if it helps the team. Coach Fran McCaffery is impressed with how his upperclassmen have bought into the program and accepted their new roles this season, even if it means they won’t be in the starting lineup. It’s not all bad for McCabe and Basabe, though, as both see minutes comparable to what the starters see. As long as they’re winning, the Hawkeye players don’t really care how it happens, even if that means sitting on the bench to start the game.
  5. It’s mid-December, which means it’s cupcake season in college basketball. Ohio State picked up a routine 85-45 cupcake victory over Savannah State this week, which will put another tally in the win column for the Buckeyes, but Rob Oller wonders if the game was really that beneficial. It’s a way for players — especially role players — to gain confidence, but there isn’t much good that it does for the starters. Since it’s difficult for players to get up for this kind of game, coach Thad Matta was forced to exaggerate what Savannah State brings to the table, all adding up to a yawner. But if this kind of game can inspire confidence in the players, that, says Oller, is really all that’s important.
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Big Ten M5: 12.07.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 7th, 2012

  1. Amir Williams was a star recruit coming out of high school, but the sophomore center rode the bench for much of his freshman campaign. Now, Ohio State is counting on Williams to be a major contributor, but before he becomes the star that many projected, he has to improve his consistency. He had 10 rebounds in a loss to Duke, but has struggled to rebound in other games. Free throws have been an issue at times, too, but he was 6-of-7 from the line against the Blue Devils. The potential is there, but the stat sheet needs to reflect that potential every game. As for the hype, coach Thad Matta isn’t a big fan of those recruiting sites: “I think that’s what’s kind of wrong with society today. Joe Blow’s got an opinion and everybody think that’s the gospel.”
  2. After a fast start to the season, Michigan State freshman guard Gary Harris suffered a shoulder injury and missed two games. In the three games since coming back, he’s been inconsistent shooting the ball, and part of that could be due to a shoulder harness that he’s been forced to wear. However, Harris refuses to use the harness as an excuse for his poor shooting. He said confidence isn’t an issue, but each game it takes him some time to get used to the harness. Despite a poor shooting start in the Spartans’ game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, he still provided a spark for his team and finished with 13 points and three steals.
  3. Minnesota is ranked anywhere between No. 14 and No. 21 in the nation in various polls, and is likely just a few wins away from being the highest-ranked Gophers team in the Tubby Smith era. There is certainly star power in Minneapolis, as the Gophers boast Andre Hollins, Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, but the depth of this team is equally impressive. Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman have both been key contributors. The scary part? Mbakwe comes off the bench, since he is struggling with injuries. The last time Minnesota was ranked this high, it ended up missing out on the NCAA Tournament. As long as the depth stays solid, that isn’t likely to happen this year.
  4. Trey Burke is having an All-America-caliber sophomore start for Michigan after a breakout freshman year, and he’s drawing high praise from the national media. Burke will be in the NBA soon enough, and he’s already drawing comparisons to one of the NBA’s best in Chris Paul. ESPN has a nice article comparing the two, highlighting their exceptional passing abilities. Not only are both good at getting their teammates involved, but they also both know how to score when necessary. Of course, Burke still has a long way to go in order to reach Paul’s status, but he certainly has the potential to eventually become an NBA star.
  5. Last year, Baylor’s big men dominated a Northwestern team that essentially didn’t have one en route to a huge win in Evanston. This year, however, the Wildcats’ frontcourt — still considered a weak link — took it to the Bears in Waco for their best win of the season to date. NU out-rebounded Baylor 34-27 and unheralded Wildcats freshman Alex Olah outplayed Bears blue-chip recruit Isaiah Austin at center. The physicality from Olah, Drew Crawford, Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn was a welcome change from how the Wildcats normally operate. Their consistency still needs to come, especially at center, but the Wildcats showed they have the potential to play with teams that are much more talented then them on the inside.
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Big Ten M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 6th, 2012

  1. Michigan State doesn’t have any commitments yet for the class of 2013 and only has one — three-star guard Drake Harris — for the class of 2014, but Tom Izzo still has a chance to pull in some very impressive classes in both years. MSU is still after top recruit Jabari Parker in 2013, but the 2014 class is expected to be much bigger (and presumably, better). This week, Izzo was in Chicago to see five-star center Jahlil Okafor and Apple Valley, Minnesota, to see five-star point guard Tyus Jones. Parker and Jones have both visited East Lansing and MSU is in their top five and top eight schools, respectively. If Izzo can snag even one of those three, he’ll have a star in the making, and he has MSU very well in the mix for each of these players.
  2. Illinois is 9-0 and went on a surprising run to win the Maui Invitational, but the Illini still have a lot to work on if they want to keep up their hot start. John Groce’s team nearly lost to Gardner-Webb and Hawaii and struggled again with Western Carolina this week. It might be too early to judge these Illini, who Loren Tate of IlliniHQ reminds us started last year with a 10-0 record. Illinois’ shooting has been erratic and it must be more consistent for the Illini to make a big run, but we’ll find out what this team is made of soon enough, with games against Gonzaga and Missouri coming up. This is a crucial point in the season, with some tough non-conference games remaining and a very difficult Big Ten slate coming up. Now is the time for the Illini to prove this team is actually different than last year’s group that collapsed down the stretch.
  3. Since it’s still only December, rankings are relatively meaningless right now. However, a debate has been raging about whether Indiana or Duke deserves to be No. 1. Of course, this isn’t college football; it’s doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a very interesting question. Do the Hoosiers deserve to stay at the top of the polls for not yet faltering from its preseason perch, or should the Blue Devils pass them after what can only be described as a remarkable non-conference run? Since we don’t even have a chance of seeing this match-up until March (or, more likely, April), Hoosier State of Mind gave its opinion on which team has the edge. Obviously, HSOM is an Indiana blog, but it’s a very interesting breakdown on which team matches up better. Will IU fall because of the Big Ten’s depth? Can Duke continue to be successful with such a short rotation? Which frontcourt would ultimately prevail? A potential meeting is still four months away, so why not have some fun with the speculation?
  4. Football has been a sore topic for Nebraskans this week, but for the first time in awhile, Huskers fans can actually turn to some basketball for relief. First-year coach Tim Miles has Nebraska off to its best start since the 2008-09 season and can now boast back-to-back wins against Wake Forest and USC. Fans have taken notice as Miles tries to create some momentum for the program heading into next year’s unveiling of a new 16,000-seat arena. It’s tough to imagine this team, which has just nine scholarship players, doing much damage in the Big Ten, but we’ll get a good barometer of where the Huskers stand when they play Creighton, without question the flagship basketball program in the state.
  5. Coming into the season, freshman Mike Gesell was supposed to be Iowa’s point guard of the future. However, just a month into this year, another freshman, Anthony Clemmons, has taken over that spot, pushing Gesell to the shooting guard position. Some Iowa players have noted that Clemmons is a good defender, but his command of the offense has been impressive in the two games he has started. He was particularly impressive in the Hawkeyes’ recent win over South Dakota, and while he only scored four points, he also had eight assists and zero turnovers. Iowa now has the flexibility to start three players at the point — Clemmons, Gesell and junior Devyn Marble — and all three have seen time there so far. The Hawkeyes already had tremendous depth up and down the roster, so adding Clemmons to the point guard rotation gives coach Fran McCaffery even more options.
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Appling Shows Growth as a Go-To Guy in Win Over Kansas

Posted by KTrahan on November 14th, 2012

After the graduation of Draymond Green after last season, Michigan State needed Keith Appling to step up this year, but nobody knew if he could take on the No. 1 role. Questions lingered after his individual performance, and the entire team’s performance, against UConn in Germany last Friday night. But after Tuesday’s 67-64 win over Kansas, Appling appears to have answered his critics. He hit a clutch three late in the game and then scored on a reverse layup with 12.6 seconds left to put the Jayhawks away.

Appling’s athletic skills and scoring abilities were never in question, but now that his leadership skills and decision-making skills have improved, he has the chance to be a special player, not just a talented one. As Graham Couch wrote in the Lansing State Journal, players who make “plays like these” in the clutch develop a reputation as a star. Michigan State is loaded with great talent, but the Spartans needed someone to step up and take on the star role. They got their answer Tuesday night.

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Big Ten M5: 10.31.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on October 31st, 2012

  1. Ohio State is ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP poll, so it’s no surprise that the Buckeyes are a popular draw this season. Student season tickets sold out in five minutes, which, under a new system, is even faster than they went last year. However, some students are apparently upset with how quickly the tickets were sold and the system under which they’re sold. One girl, who wasn’t planning on buying tickets anyway, was mad because, if she wanted tickets, she might not have been able to get them. Really. However, one student had a good point that OSU could look into expanding its student section considering the heavy demand for tickets. The OSU athletic department said it will take a look at what the actual student attendance is at games and could consider a change in the size of the student section in the coming years if it necessitates.
  2. Most people are ranking Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State as the Big Ten’s best teams, but as ESPN.com argues, don’t forget about Michigan State. Many years, this Spartans team would be considered one of the top teams in the conference, but not in a league this stacked. MSU certainly has the talent to compete with the best in the Big Ten, despite its loss of Draymond Green — Derrick Nix and Keith Appling will be the leaders of the team, while Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson will add talented experience. Just because MSU isn’t considered a favorite in the preseason polls doesn’t mean the Spartans are a step below the perceived front-runners. If everyone works well together — and that’s typical under Tom Izzo — expect another great year in East Lansing.
  3. As you’ve probably heard, there are a number of “secret scrimmages” happening this week in college basketball — you can get the full list here — and a lot of the games are actually better than many of the non-conference real games we’ll be seeing next month. North Carolina-Georgetown? Xavier-West Virginia? Sign me up! The only problem: We aren’t allowed to watch them. One such top match-up between two NCAA Tournament contenders is Iowa vs. Creighton. The two played on Sunday, and while coaches are strongly discouraged from talking about the stats or score of the game, it was likely a good tune-up for the challenges this year’s schedule will bring. By playing a top squad rather than a cupcake, the Hawkeyes got an early test without it counting against the record. That experience could be very valuable once the tougher non-conference games come around.
  4. Michigan’s Crisler Arena got a facelift this offseason, and wow, does it look nice. You can check out all of the photos the Wolverine athletic department posted here. The arena looks very sleek and modern, especially in the entranceway. The concessions and the team store also look very nice. However, this isn’t a completely new arena and the school is pushing to hold onto the memory of the arena before the renovation, including using some of the old court as part of the walls. You can also check out the construction that went into the renovation in that photo slideshow — it’s well worth a few minutes of your time.
  5. This is an old nugget, but Tim Miles turned into the star of Big Ten Media Day thanks to his social media presence. The Nebraska coach was even trending worldwide on Twitter, which has to be the first time anything relating to Nebraska basketball was ever that popular. In all seriousness, Miles’ social media abilities — he has over 30,000 Twitter followers — has been important for the Cornhuskers and will continue to be important for a program trying to gain relevancy in a competitive landscape. According to the article, Miles tweeted at halftime of an NCAA Tournament game last year, and as a follower of his, I’ve seen his tweets range from his experiences at Oklahoma City Thunder games to wishing “Tom Osbourne” (actually spelled “Osborne”) well in retirement. At Big Ten Media Day, he tweeted a picture from the podium of his press conference. Miles sure knows how to connect with fans, and that will be good for a program trying to build a more consistent hoops following.
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Big Ten M5: 10.24.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on October 24th, 2012

  1. Last year’s Northwestern team had so little depth that at times it was forced to use just six players all game and play John Shurna at the center spot. This year, the Wildcats will be fine depth-wise as they bring in nine new players. Yes, nine. Three of them are redshirts — freshmen Tre Demps and Mike Turner both sat out last year, as did junior Nikola Cerina, who transferred in from TCU. The Wildcats also added two seven-footers — freshmen Alex Olah and Chier Ajou — at center and graduate transfer forward Jared Swopshire, who came to Evanston from Louisville and is expected to make a major impact on the court. Chris Johnson, a Rush the Court contributor who also runs InsideNU.com with me, sat down with coach Bill Carmody to preview all nine freshmen. Carmody seems very excited about Swopshire and added some insight into the center situation, saying Olah has the upper hand on Ajou right now. He was also high on Sanjay Lumpkin, a freshman guard/forward combo who fits nicely in NU’s system and should see significant playing time.
  2. Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz was injured in a workout on October 9, running into the bottom of the hoop and gashing his leg. He could see his bone through the gash and needed over 40 stitches to close it up, but luckily, it was just a flesh wound. Bruesewitz is still recovering, but he finally opened up about the injury that he initially feared could be much worse. He said he first thoughts were if he could ever play — or even ever walk — again. Bruesewitz will play again this year, though the timeline for his return is unclear. ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported that Bruesewitz likely won’t be available for the Badgers’ November 14 game at Florida, but could be back for a November 23 contest against Creighton in Las Vegas.
  3. The Big Ten basketball media poll was released yesterday, and not surprisingly, Indiana ended up in first place. The poll included 24 writers — two from each team — and the Hoosiers received 21 first place votes, with Michigan, the second-place team, taking the remaining first-place votes. Interestingly, Ohio State was picked behind the Wolverines in the Big Ten, despite being ranked No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Top 25. You can see the whole poll at the link above. Look out for No. 6 Minnesota and No. 10 Northwestern as sleepers, while No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 9 Illinois might be susceptible to a fall. Obviously, preseason rankings aren’t that important, but it’s an interesting look at how deep the league is and how far down some good teams are buried.
  4. Michigan State is the first school to land a visit from top recruit Jabari Parker, who will make the trip to East Lansing this weekend. The Spartans are in the top five finalists for Parker, who also lists Duke, Florida, BYU and Stanford as possibilities. MSU has yet to secure a commitment in the Class of 2013, losing out on James Young to Kentucky and Jonathan Williams III to Missouri. However, ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep tells the Lansing State Journal that Parker is the Spartans’ top priority, and now they’re shifting their focus to underclassmen since most other top 2013 recruits have already committed.
  5. The common refrain for coaches whose teams receive high rankings typically goes something like this: “We aren’t worried about preseason rankings. We have to take care of business on the court or else that doesn’t matter.” But not Tom Crean. The Indiana coach had a very different response to his team being preseason No. 1, writes Bob Kravitz in the Indianapolis Star. “How cool is that?” Crean said. Some people will see that comment as cocky or misguided, but it’s refreshing to see a coach who doesn’t pretend to ignore the media and preseason rankings. As Kravitz wrote, Crean knows the ranking is meaningless in terms of how IU will fare this season, but it’s an important stepping stone for a coach whose team went 6-25 in his first year in Bloomington.
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