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Crean asks squad to make the simple play - defend, rebound, hustle

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Tipoff: Indiana at Michigan, 9 tonight

Radio: WNUY, 100.1-FM

TV: ESPN

Thursday, January 14, 2010 - 10:07 am

Indiana returns to the Big Ten road, and it's time to break out Dick-and-Jane fundamentals. Make the simple pass, Tom Crean says. Throw it to the open teammate, cut hard, create holes in the defense, a teammate throws it back to you because you're now open, you score, all is well.

What, you thought coaching basketball was hard?

OK, it is hard, or Crean wouldn't make $2.3 million a year, which is still about half of what Kentucky coach John Calipari makes.

Simple passes acquire quantum mechanic complexity when you're young and on the road, when the opponent is aggressive, the crowd is hostile and the crunch-time pressure overwhelming.

In other words, when you're the Hoosiers (7-8 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten) playing at Michigan (8-7, 2-2) tonight.

“There are so many dynamics in this league, but the No. 1 quality is can you execute under pressure,” Crean said. “We have to learn to do that. We have to have more self-discipline on the decisions we're making.”

Decision-making is Priority No. 1 in the aftermath of a two-game losing streak (Ohio State road disaster, late-game home collapse against Illinois), and it starts with passing.

“If we make the simple pass,” Crean said, “I feel good about our guys making the shot. We have to quit trying to make the home run.”

Yes, it's a baseball analogy, and it basically means there's nothing wrong with hitting singles. If everybody does it, you score and win and, if you're a coach, sleep at night.

In fact, Crean said, Hoosier troubles aren't so much in going for home runs as in trying to stretch singles into doubles and triples. In other words, trying to do too much.

“Just make the simple play,” he said. “That's the hardest thing. The more the ball moves, the more open shots we get. That's what we need.”

What IU really needs is a victory. Does the fact IU already has beaten Michigan at Assembly Hall provide an edge? Not exactly.

“None of them (IU players) have been to Michigan before,” Crean said. “I don't put a lot of stock in it.”

Crean's stock is reserved for the little things. Shooting on the road can be erratic, but if you defend and rebound and hustle and, yes, make the simple play, good things can happen.

“As coaches we tell our guys all the time, if you're not making shots you can still do this and this,” Crean said. “They look at it, we're not making shots. That's universal with teams.”

Michigan coach John Beilein is telling his team a lot of things these days. A preseason top-15 team has faded into mediocrity. The offense struggles and the defense breaks down. Double digit leads disappear.

The Wolverines blew a 17-point lead at home and lost to Northwestern Sunday. Bad offense beget bad defense, even with two of the Big Ten's best players in Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims.

“We got distracted by our lack of offense,” Beilein said, “and that's the story of this team.”

So is poor three-point shooting. Michigan is the Big Ten's worst three-point shooting team (29.7 percent), though it takes more three-point shots than any conference team except Northwestern and Iowa.

That didn't stop Beilein from getting a contract extension good through the 2015-16 season that will peak at $1.9 million a year.

Because the Wolverines play with four guards and a forward (Sims), Crean said he'll use a smaller lineup. That means a player such as forward Derek Elston might not see as much action.

“I want to play bigger,” Crean said, “but our guys have to guard the dribble. Derek is not comfortable right now guarding smaller, quicker forwards. Eighty percent of matchups are about defense, not offense.”

Dick and Jane couldn't have said it better.