BLOOMINGTON – Indiana isn't in to mercy. Yogi Ferrell was quite clear on that.
The Hoosiers face a shaken -- perhaps not stirred -- Notre Dame squad in the Crossroads Classic and ruthlessness is the calling card.
“The key for us,” Ferrell said, “is we have to set the tone at the beginning of the game. We have to set our pace, not let all the distractions play into it, and play our game.”
Coach Tom Crean was even more clear about Saturday's showdown at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We have to make every shot they take a challenge and a struggle,” Crean said. “We can't relax or give them any confidence early in making shots.”
IU (8-2) is coming off consecutive blow-out home wins over North Florida and Oakland. Notre Dame (7-3) is coming off a stunning home loss to North Dakota State.
This is the last Big Ten-caliber team the Hoosiers will face before conference play begins Dec. 31 at Illinois. Their final two non-conference games -- against Nicholls State and Kennesaw State -- won't come close to duplicating Big Ten action.
“Games like this prepare you for the Big Ten,” Crean said, “but we'd like to think every experience helps us build a mentality to be successful.”
Notre Dame utilizes a four-guard lineup with Jerian Grant (18.7-point average), Pat Connaughton (13.9 points), Eric Atkins (12.4) and Demetrius Jackson (8.1). Forward Garrick Sherman (14.1 points, 7.7 rebounds), a Michigan State transfer, handles the inside duties.
The Irish win with offense, particularly from the perimeter (despite 9-for-29 three-point shooting against North Dakota State, they average better than 40 percent as a team from three-point range), and Crean knows it.
“They're a great three-point shooting team. I know they didn't have great scoring the other night, but they're fully capable. They're always one of the great shooting teams in the country.
“They'll be a great challenge because Pat Connaughton is one of the more dangerous players in the country. He can shoot the three at a high rate. Then they have Grant, Atkins and Jackson. When you have a bunch of shooters like they do, you'll get open shots. Our job is to not allow those open shots.
“That's why we have a versatile lineup. That's why we have a guy like Jeremy (Hollowell) who can guard multiple people. That's why we have other guys who can do that. That versatility will get tested. We have to be rock solid on both ends to compete.”
Solid or not, the Hoosiers figure Notre Dame will return to hot shooting form against them
“I expect them to hit some big-time shots,” freshman forward Troy Williams said. “They have a lot of three-point shooters. They have a very good post man. We want to take away their air space on three-point shots, and make sure we stop Sherman from scoring. Those are our two biggest things.”
Added Crean: “I have no doubt that we'll get their best. We'll get their most energy. We'll get the whole deal.”
Notre Dame's Connaughton said much of that energy has to come on defense.
“We've got to get better defensively. And our energy has got to be good. We've got to come out defending and playing our game. We have to have attention to detail.”
IU has a 1-1 Crossroads Classic record. It beat Notre Dame in 69-58 in 2011 and lost to Butler 88-86 in overtime last year.
“It's a good situation,” Crean said. “It takes a home and home away from us, that's the way that it is, but it's great for the state. When we get a lot of Indiana fans, it's almost like a home game. But then, the other three schools' (fans) could join forces against us. That's the beauty of Indiana.
“When you go in there, you have to shut it all out. It's a great venue. You've got four high-level programs that have enjoyed a lot of success.”