BLOOMINGTON -- Tom Crean ain't buying it. Not a chance. The Indiana coach has no doubt what his top-ranked Hoosiers will face tonight at Minnesota's Williams Arena.
The good Gophers.
“They've got some guys playing enormously well at home,” Crean said. “We're getting ready for the best Minnesota team.”
That best has free-fallen into mediocrity. Minnesota has lost four of its last five games. It has scored less than 60 points in all five of those games. It is 18-9 overall and 6-8 in the Big Ten.
What was once a top-10 team has fallen out of the national polls and jeopardized its NCAA tourney prospects.
Crean doesn't see that. Well, he does, but he's focused on the Gopher squad that beat Memphis, Florida State and Michigan State, the one that staggered the Hoosiers in the second half of last month's 88-81 Assembly Hall victory with pressure defense and fast-moving offense, when a 52-29 halftime lead dissolved into a nail-biter.
“We're focused on the games they played their best in, how they played against us, the pressure and movement they brought against us,” Crean said.
“They really get after you when they get into that press and try to turn you over. That's what we expect to see. We focused on the best Minnesota has to offer. That's what we think we'll see. That's what we're seeing night in, night out. That's the way you want it.”
This is not the way Minnesota coach Tubby Smith wanted it. The Gophers' recent turnover struggles -- they have 41 in their last two games -- have cost them possessions they couldn't afford. Smith said they're worked on the problem in practice, but tried to do it in a way that doesn't cost them aggressiveness.
“It's been so prevalent and we don't want them worrying about doing something wrong,” Smith said. “We're trying to have more fun. Go in that direction instead of just talking about the turnovers.
“We'll do different looks. Have more ballhandling in warmups and pre-practice drills. Hopefully that will make a difference.”
Beating No. 1 Indiana tonight would be a big boost given Minnesota's recent submissive play -- road losses of 71-45 to Ohio State and of 72-51 to Iowa.
“We're in a quandary,” Smith said. “We've played poorly. We've shot poorly. We've had some time to work on some of those areas.
“We know we're going against the best team in the country. They deserve their ranking. They're very talented.”
The Gophers haven't played since last Wednesday. The time off helped forward Rodney Williams' ailing left shoulder. He averages 10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds.
“He's using that left arm more,” Smith said. “He's ready to go.”
Minnesota's main firepower comes from guards Andre Hollins (13.6 points, a team-leading 90 assists) and Austin Hollins (11.1 points). Power forward Trevor Mbakwe averages 9.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.
“We're ready for how good both Hollins are and how good Trevor is,” Crean said. “How aggressive (guard) Joe Coleman is. We know what Rodney Williams is capable of.
“One thing they have as good as anybody is their length.”
Indiana (24-3, 12-2) hasn't played since its big win at Michigan State last Tuesday. Could that time off have cost the Hoosiers momentum and timing?
“You never know,” Crean said. “If you spend time worrying about it … there's no sense in worrying about things you can't do anything about. We've practiced well. We're prepared. We did not have a lull. We healed up. The main thing remains getting better.”
A victory would maintain IU's two-game lead in the Big Ten race with three to play.