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For Indiana, it's work now, thrive later

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Tipoff: Oakland at Indiana, 7 p.m., Tuesday
Radio: 1250-AM

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Hoosier progress continues

Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 8:31 am

BLOOMINGTON -- Of course the Indiana Hoosiers have pride. They've heard the talk. They've seen the numbers.

They can't shoot. They are not what they once were. They are vulnerable if you are tough enough to clog the lane and force them into a half-court game.

Oh, yes. They stink from beyond the three-point arc.

But the thing is, today's weakness can be tomorrow's strength. Former Hoosier Victor Oladipo proved that.

And so the Hoosiers push the shoot-extra pace. They come in early, stay late. They shoot when they are fresh and when they are fatigued. Where they are now is not nearly as important as where they will be.

Case in point -- Saturday night's 89-68 win over North Florida.

The Hoosiers (7-2) were 6-for-18 on three-pointers. That's 33.3 percent, which is lousy if you're Wisconsin (the Big Ten three-point leader at 40.9 percent), but an improvement if you're IU (the conference cellar dweller at 28.1 percent).

In Saturday night's first half, when it mattered most, IU was 5-for-9 from beyond the arc.

It wasn't by accident, said guard Austin Etherington, who came off the bench to go 2-for-3 from three-point range and finished with a season-high six points.

“We know going forward we have to improve our three-point shooting,” he said. “All the extra work we're doing, coming in early, staying after practice and working on our shots.

“We shot pretty well compared to what we have. The work is paying off. We just have to keep doing what we're doing.”

Exactly, coach Tom Crean said.

“You've got to work at it. We try to get as much shooting in as we can.”

Granted, lighting up North Florida (5-6) is not the same as, say, No. 4 Syracuse, but for a young team, it's a start.

“It's fun to watch our guys' confidence go up,”Crean said. “But it's like anything else -- when they come in with an attitude of impacting the game defensively or rebounding or with their hustle, it's amazing what happens offensively.”

Crean mentioned Iowa, which was one of the Big Ten's worst three-point shooting teams last year and which now ranks second at 39.2 percent.

“It's the same guys,” Crean said.

IU work includes being aware enough to know that its attack-the-paint preference can't be forced. In other words, cutting, screening, passing and moving to get the defense to break down. The result Saturday night was a season high in assists (17) and a season low in turnovers (11).

Again, North Florida will never be confused with Duke, but the Ospreys have played in such tough venues as Florida and Ohio State.

“We've noticed that a lot of teams, since we've previously not been shooting well, they've been packing it in a little,” Etherington said. “We knew we didn't want to over-penetrate. We knew the extra pass and one more pass would be there.

“We did that.”

North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll saw vulnerability from IU's Syracuse loss four days earlier. The problem -- he didn't have the talent to exploit it, and IU was too driven to let it happen.

“One thing that's really impressive about them is their pace,” Driscoll said. “They play at that pace because in a half-court setting, it gets difficult for them to find shots. Syracuse was a great example of that. LIU Brooklyn is another example.

“Once IU gets down, it's very difficult for them to fight back when they are playing slow. If Indiana can get the ball out front and really push you, it's hard to stop them. They almost play haphazardly on purpose. They don't care if guys are going too fast and forcing shots because Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh are so good at finishing broken plays.”

The Hoosiers will continue to finish when they can, to exploit their length and athleticism on the boards, to run past mistakes, to work on their weaknesses. They have four more non-conference games to get it right or, at least, as right as they can.

“Our development has a long way to go,” Crean said. “Our identity is ever forming, but it will come.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.