BLOOMINGTON –-- Tom Crean keeps pushing this quality over quantity thing in Indiana playing time.
The coach isn't kidding.
Nine Hoosiers average at least 11 minutes a game, with Cody Zeller leading at 28.8. Those minutes will get divided even more when senior forward Derek Elston returns from a knee injury, and freshman forwards Peter Jurkin and Hanner Perea finish their NCAA-mandated suspensions for receiving impermissible benefits during recruiting.
Elston figures to return in late December. After losing their appeals, Jurkin and Perea will be eligible for the Dec. 15 Crossroads Classic game against Butler. The NCAA appeals committee announced on Friday that the nine-game suspensions would stand based on travel ball coach and A-HOPE founder Mark Adams' access and involvement with the men's basketball program. Adams was ruled a booster because of $185 in donations from 1986 to '92 to the IU Varsity Club.
Crean didn't comment on the ruling, but he did tweet that, "The attitude, humble spirit, personalities and ability to deal with adversity that Hanner and Peter have astounds me daily. 2 special people."
As far as juggling the playing time for his players, Crean said, “We keep trying to stress to these guys that it's not the quantity of your minutes, it's the quality of your play. If the quality of your play is high, you're going to be happy. If you're looking for quantity of minutes, we're probably not a good program right now … we've got too many guys.”
Top-ranked Indiana (5-0) has enough quality depth for two teams. Six players have started at least once, and at full strength it could be seven. Crean expects maximum effort and production, and has no problem pulling guys if they don't deliver.
Senior forward Christian Watford knows all about that. He didn't start Sam Houston State (Will Sheehey did) and then got replaced by Sheehey in overtime of the Hoosiers' win over Georgetown
“Christian played a lot of minutes, and then all of a sudden I had Will in there defensively,” Crean said about the Georgetown game. “Christian went right back in put himself right where he left off after an extended period of time of being out. That's a sign of a mature team. That's a sign of a team that is going to continue to get better and better.”
IU wants to wear down opponents with its push-the-pace offense and aggressive defense, and depth is crucial. The key -- the level of play can't drop off when Crean uses his bench.
“We really want to keep improving that quality of play,” he said. “It's easy to talk about, but it's a whole other thing for them to believe in it and have the maturity to do it.”
The Hoosiers have shown plenty of maturity in handling the pressure of their national ranking. All five of their victories have come by double digits. While they remain among the nation's highest-scoring teams (86.2 points), it's their improved defense that has been the most impressive. They hold opponents to 57.0 points on 36.4 percent shooting, 29.4 percent from three-point range.
Last year those defensive numbers were 66.4 points, 42.6 percent overall and 34.9 on threes.
“We've got a lot of guys being asked to do a lot of things that maybe they won't be asked to do down the road when it comes to defensive reasons,” Crean said, “but (defense) was where we had to make our greatest improvement.
“As we get deeper and that helps our length and inside play, it's going to allow us to do even more and take more chances defensively. Right now they're trying to do a good job of keeping their man in front, doing the things that are needed defensively so that we can get some easy baskets.”
IU has won 32 consecutive home games in the month of November, a streak that started in 2001. It has won 21 of its last 22 games at Assembly Hall, and 10 straight.
Ball State comes in 2-1 after a 68-48 home loss to Indiana State. The Cardinals are led by 6-8, 245-pound forward Majok Majok, who averages 14.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.
They have two other double figure scorers in guards Jesse Berry (12.0 points) and Jauwan Scaife (11.3). Zach Fields, a 6-10, 269-pound center, averages 5.7 points and 6.0 rebounds.
Ball State shoots just 28.9 percent from three-point range.
Sunday's game is a tune-up for Tuesday night's Big Ten-ACC Challenge battle with No. 9 North Carolina at Assembly Hall.