BLOOMINGTON -– Be honest. Do you WANT to see Victor Oladipo in your face for 94 feet, possession after possession, until someone breaks? Do you need long and lean Indiana Hoosiers, fit enough to bust endurance records set a generation ago, pressing you as if their next meal depended on it?
Welcome to the evolution of a top-ranked team. In this, the weakest scheduling stretch of the season, IU is preparing to unleash, if not 40 minutes of heck, the next best thing. It will press and pressure, from man and zone concepts, until opponents break. If it takes 10 minutes, great. If it doesn't happen for 39, no problem.
The Hoosiers (9-0) ain't going anywhere.
“We have really good athletic ability and we can come at you in waves,” associate head coach Tim Buckley says. “That's what we want to be -- a presence that entire 40 minutes. It depends on what press we use whether it's full court man or three-quarter court or half-court stuff.”
Wherever they use it, the players embrace it.
“It's a motivator,” junior guard Maurice Creek says. “When the press is called we can speed it up, get points on the board, create turnovers. That's what it's for. I think everybody is motivated when the press is going. We know what to do when the press is called.”
IU began flexing its full-court pressing muscles last Saturday against Coppin State. It will continue tonight against Central Connecticut State (4-3), but won't really kick in gear until freshman forwards Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin return from NCAA-mandated suspension (they'll be eligible starting with the Dec. 15 game against Butler), and senior forward Derek Elston gets back from knee surgery (the projection is around Christmas).
“The stress of the pressure and being there for 40 minutes benefits us,” Buckley says. “I think when you play better teams they don't allow that to affect them as much. But you start to bring fatigue into the game as you wear them down late in the game. Hopefully we get a turnover or a deflection.”
The Hoosiers got plenty of both against out-gunned Coppin State. They forced 17 turnovers, totaled 11 steals and turned Coppin State's offense into a poor-shooting mess.
“Fortunately we've got a lot of versatility on our team so we can show you different looks,” Buckley says. “With the guys who have been out, particularly Hanner and Peter, they will cover up a lot more mistakes on guarding the dribble. They can erase those mistakes. It will add another shot blocker or two.”
Still, a good press needs outside pressure, because penetration is always hard on a defense.
“We'll try to do our best to keep our guys in front,” Buckley says, “because once you start rotating to block shots, it can hurt you with block outs and rebounds.”
The only hurting the Hoosiers seek is what the press does to opponents.
“We want to get after every one,” forward Cody Zeller says. “It picks up the speed of the game. If they're trying to slow it down, you've got to go to the press. We take pride in that. We want to score a lot of points, and you've got to do it somehow.”
The press might be particularly effective against roster-challenged Central Connecticut State. All five Blue Devils starters average at least 36 minutes a game.
Yes, the Hoosiers have noticed.
“I've seen all their games and I've yet to see them get tired,” Buckley says. “A team is resilient that way. We'll find out. We'll put more stress and pressure on them than they've seen.”
That means fast-break offense as much as it does full-court defense.
“We want to push it back at them,” Buckley says.
Or, as Zeller says, “We feel we are one of the better conditioned teams. We go into a lot of games feeling like we're in better shape that the other team because of how much work we put in. We have enough guys we can move through and we're in good enough shape that makes it an effective defense.”