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Breaking even may be challenge for Hoosiers

IU is much improved, but so is the Big Ten.

Saturday, October 31, 2009 - 10:40 am

BLOOMINGTON — Welcome to “Life Isn't Fair,” the Cream 'n' Crimson edition. Today's episode features Indiana basketball, an improved team in a tough-as-nails conference.

Yes, this is a potential problem.

Last year the Hoosiers went 6-25, 1-17 in the Big Ten. Those were the worst records in school history.

Coach Tom Crean upgraded the talent with a top-15 caliber recruiting class. He demanded more from his returning players. He blended them all together, and indications are this team is fully capable of running the high-octane offensive and defensive attacks he wants. We'll get the first public indication of that at Wednesday night's exhibition opener against Grace College.

In another era, this might be enough to jump IU into the middle of the Big Ten pack with a break-even record.

In this era, however, which features Michigan State and Purdue rated in preseason top-10 polls and four other ranked teams, plus at least three others with NCAA aspirations, break-even might be unrealistic.

“There's no question it's going to be a challenge to move up,” Crean said. “But that's not our focus right now. The focus is how much better we can improve and see where it takes us.”

You know it's tough when even opposing coaches feel sorry for you. Take Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who had soured on Hoosier intentions during former coach Kelvin Sampson's disastrous run.

“I think they'll take a step forward,” Weber said, “but how big will probably be determined by the rest of the league. That's the problem. Everybody is improved. That's Tom's biggest dilemma. He could have come into the league at a different time when it was a little down and been able to make a bigger step.”

One step Crean would like to see from his Hoosiers is more passing and cutting, less dribbling and individual play.

“It's a matter of everybody being on the same page knowing that we're going to move the ball,” Crean said. “We're going to share the ball. We're not going to over-dribble.

“We had a situation Sunday night at the end of practice and then all through Monday … You know some coaches take the practice jerseys away, some coaches take the locker room away, when players aren't playing well. We took the dribble away because we were a dribbling-abusive team. We have to learn how to play. We need the entire team to stay focused on how the team gets better.”