BLOOMINGTON - Hey, did you hear the latest rumors swirling around the Indiana basketball program?
For instance, coach Tom Crean kicked his players out of Assembly Hall because they were not worthy to practice there after their timid effort in the Iowa loss.
Or, Crean kicked his players out of the locker room after watching film of the rebound-challenged Hawkeyes crush the Hoosiers on the boards at Assembly Hall.
Or, Crean made his players wear dresses to practice this week.
Wait. Sorry. We made that last one up, although because practices are closed, who knows where rumor ends and truth begins. Here's the bottom line: Something needs to motivate the Hoosiers (9-10 overall, 3-4 in the Big Ten) to be man enough to rebound in Saturday's game at Illinois (13-8, 5-3).
Yes, the Illini are inconsistent with losses in three of their last four games, but they did win at Big Ten doormat Penn State on Wednesday, did rally to win at IU a few weeks ago and do rate among the Big Ten's better rebounding teams led by forward Mike Davis, who leads the conference in rebounding at 9.3. If IU doesn't play with toughness and resiliency, it will get hammered.
So the Hoosiers have spent this bye week emphasizing toughness and rebounding. Yes, this has been a season-long theme, a byproduct of youth and rebuilding only time and maturity will truly resolve.
In the meantime, Crean and his staff continue force-feeding the players, with up and down results. Some days you have wins over Michigan, Pitt and Minnesota. Other days you have defeats to Loyola, Ohio State and Iowa. Tough-minded performances beget submissive play.
What's a coach to do?
“There's not a magic drill,” Crean said. “We can't magically have guys put on 10 pounds by Saturday. That's what the offseason is for, but there's no excuse for us not hitting first.”
As assistant coach Tim Buckley said, “There's a difference between getting a body on somebody and getting a body on somebody and carving out space and keeping your feet moving, particularly against stronger and bigger guys. That's an area we continue to address.”
Addressing is one thing. Doing is another, and the players know who's ultimately responsible.
“It's on us,” guard Jeremiah Rivers said. “We know if we go anywhere playing like we did (against Iowa), we'll get spanked. We can't allow that. We have to show who's willing to fight and compete to win.”
Yes, we have heard that before.
“Every game we don't know who's going to get the rebound,” Rivers said. “That's the problem. It's been so inconsistent. We have to have consistent players getting rebounds every night.”
Consistency apparently happens in practice, but not in games. That, too, is a season-long problem.
“For some reason we seem to go harder in practice than in games,” Rivers said. “That's not acceptable. We hit each other, grind, sweat, bleed, all that good stuff. Then we come in games and it seems like… I don't know if we're afraid to hit. I don't know what the deal is, but we have to go as hard in games as we do in practice.”
Crean's unhappiness with a three-guard lineup that produced just two guard rebounds against Iowa could mean playing with three big men.
“We'll see what our best combinations are to rebound,” Buckley said. “Who's going to find a way to do that? If you do that, you'll get into the starting lineup as well as get more minutes for yourself.”
That, at least, is no rumor.