For Tom Crean, it's priceless.
No Indiana Hoosier is off on some Team USA international basketball adventure, as Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey were last year while participating in the World University Games.
All players are on campus working out, including freshmen James Blackmon, Robert Johnson, Max Hoetzel, Jeremiah April and Tim Priller.
Yes, Crean said, that matters.
“It's big. At the end of the day, those two (Ferrell and Sheehey) playing for Team USA did not help us. It helped them. It was good for them (Ferrell averaged 10.3 points and 4.3 assists; Sheehey averaged 10.6 points). They were well coached and got a great experience, but it didn't make our team better. There was a vacuum of leadership during the summer that wasn't filled by anybody.”
That vacuum, Crean said, contributed to IU's 17-15 record that cost it a postseason berth after consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.
Having everyone participate this summer as well as the August trip to Montreal, will provide a huge leadership and experience boost for a youthful team that will need it, Crean said.
“That's what we need this summer. We need the leadership to come together. What we tried to get established this spring is that everybody who is with us is so bonded and so close, that when the new guys come in, they know how to bring them in. They become like mentors. They adopt them, so to speak.”
As a junior, Ferrell is the most experienced returning Hoosier. Much will be expected from this All-Big Ten guard (he averaged 17.4 points and 3.8 assists while shooting nearly 41 percent from three-point range). The same is true for junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and sophomores Troy Williams, Devin Davis, and Stanford Robinson. Sophomore Collin Hartman is coming off knee surgery after limited action last season.
This means the bulk of IU's minutes will come from freshmen and sophomores, amplifying the Big Ten challenge.
“We're going to be really young again,” Crean said. “I don't know where we'll stack up in the Big Ten as far as the youngest team, but I've got to believe we'll be right there. The bottom line is we have to have guys come together this summer.”
The trip to Montreal will mean the Hoosiers will get 10 days of practice, then play five games in six days against strong Canadian teams (Concordia University, McGill University, Ottawa University, Carleton and the University of Montreal-Quebec).
Crean said he chose Montreal, as opposed to a trip overseas, because of distance (players will get a chance to return home after the trip before beginning school) and quality opponents. Last summer Carleton beat Wisconsin and took Syracuse to overtime. Wisconsin went on to reach the Final Four last spring.
“We could have gone a lot further and put more into the logistics,” Crean said, “but the key is to get good competition. We feel it will be substantial for us. Carleton is one of them. We were told, don't hit them right off the bat. So we'll play them the third game. That's important. And the whole trip will give us a chance to do a lot of things in a short period of time.”
Defense is the key
Are the football Hoosiers set for a bowl-making season?
Once again, it will come down to the defense.
In the last two years the Hoosiers have had one of the Big Ten's best offenses (38.4 points a game) and one of its worst defenses (38.8 points allowed). Coach Kevin Wilson shook up the staff and revamped the approach.
If IU could knock eight points off that defensive average, its bowl prospects are bright. It finished 5-7 last season, one win shy of being bowl eligible.
“We've got a bunch of guys back,” Wilson said about his nine returning defensive starters, “and we've continued to recruit to that side of the ball. There will be a lot more depth. To get on the field, you have to play well and earn the right to stay out there.
“The competition is going to help us. We'll be more mautre. We are making changes (primarily going from a 4-3 to 3-4 defensive front) and we'll see if those changes and the new coaching can be a positive.
“Still, changing the defense and the coaching isn't the answer. It's putting it all together. The players are a big part of it. I have a lot of confidence in our guys. In the spring the defense more than held its own against the offense. You can say the offense isn't any good. I don't know. I like the fact there was some banter back and forth. I saw some good offense and some good defense. That's what you want in practice.”
Expanding Big Ten footprint
The Big Ten is making a big push out East with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, adding league offices in New York City and Washington DC, and moving the Big Ten men's basketball tourney to Washington DC for the 2017 season. The tourney has previously rotated between Indianapolis and Chicago.
IU athletic director Fred Glass is fine with that given the national move to larger and larger conferences.
“That's reflective of the overall expansion philosophy of the Big Ten. If we're going to adapt and preserve our values as a conference in an environment that is changing demographically and otherwise, we have to expand our footprint.
“We think we're doing it in a responsible way. We're adding programs that are big-time public research universities. Even though it's a big footprint, it's contiguous (among the states). It's not like there is an island here or there. We're being able to connect to a highly populated area (the East Coast).
“The Big Ten Network is a critical revenue stream for all of our teams. Money is not a bad thing, it's a good thing if you're able to enhance the experience of student athletes and be competitive on a national basis.
“We want to support that expansion, and get people on the East Coast excited.”