BLOOMINGTON –- Does Tom Crean change his coaching approach now that the Big Ten tourney looms?
Are you nuts?
Indiana's resurrection season has produced a 24-7 record and seven victories in the final eight regular-season games. Change is as welcome as a bout of the flu.
“The bottom line is, we treat the Big Ten tourney like we treated the entire month of February,” Crean said.
February is when the Hoosiers began their surge. It's when they won at Purdue (their best road victory of the season), won at Minnesota and beat Michigan State.
That was enough to propel IU to an 11-7 Big Ten record, a No. 5 conference tourney seed and Thursday afternoon's matchup with No. 12 seed Penn State (12-19).
Crean isn't about to mess up that momentum with change.
“We'll keep refining what we're doing, keep working on a lot of fundamental things, stay locked into the preparation and the game-plan aspect, and get a lot of shots up in a short period of time,” he said. “Our team is responding to all of those things. There is very little we'll change.
“It's not like we're going to watch more film. We watch a lot as it is. Now we watch it in smaller segments, like 15-to-20-minute segments. We make sure we grasp what we see on film. We make sure we understand what we're trying to do. Our guys have been good at that.”
The Hoosiers were good enough to end the regular season ranked No. 15. Now can they be good enough to thrive at an event that traditionally means failure? IU has lost its first Big Ten tourney game five straight years and in six of the last seven. It has a six-game overall tournament losing streak, and has never won it, although it did finish second in 2001.
But that is as relevant to this team as singer Katy Perry's blue hair.
“We're going to take each game for what it is, which is the most important game on the schedule,” Crean said. “Nothing changes this week.”
Penn State has one of the nation's best point guards in ultra-quick senior Tim Frazier. He's second in the Big Ten in scoring (18.8 points) and steals (2.2), and first in assists (6.3). He's even among the conference leaders in rebounding (4.8).
Frazier might be the Big Ten's best in getting into the lane and either scoring or passing to teammates such as Jermaine Marshall (10.3 points).
However, the Nittany Lions' inability to make three-pointers (they're last in the Big Ten at 30.4 percent) and defend three-pointers (they're 11th in the conference) is a big problem.
You won't hear that from Crean.
“Penn State is one of the hardest-playing teams around, let alone the Big Ten,” he said. “We've got some really difficult matchups. We have a tough task in the sense of matching their energy, emotion and toughness, but that's what our guys have thrived on.”
Penn State's postseason hopes center on winning the Big Ten tourney title and earning the conference's automatic bid. It's already lost twice to IU this season -- 88-82 in State College and 73-54 at Assembly Hall.
“I know we're playing a hot team,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “They're playing at a high level. It will be a great challenge.
“So you play with house money. No one expects you to win. But our freshmen are getting better. Frasier can get better. There's no pressure on us. Let's have fun, compete and play loose. That's the mentality we'll take, and see what happens.”
Penn State has a few notable victories. It beat Illinois back when that meant something. The Illini were ranked No. 22 on that Jan. 19 night and the Nittany Lions won 54-52. They also hammered Purdue 65-45, and beat Iowa and Nebraska.
“I'm proud of the way our team fights and competes,” Chambers said. “We just can't get everybody on the same page. That would be nice to see.”