BLOOMINGTON -- Tom Crean isn't interested in excuses for why Indiana won't be a Big Ten basketball factor.
He's determined to coach the youthful Hoosiers (six freshmen) to contention status, if not a second straight outright championship, and it starts with mental over physical
“It's mindset,” he said. “It's mindset as much as anything else. Understanding that we don't want to beat ourselves.”
IU returns one starter -- point guard Yogi Ferrell -- from last year's Big Ten title team. Also back is the conference's top sixth man, senior swingman Will Sheehey.
After that, the experience drops. Sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell averaged 9.7 minutes. Sophomore guard Austin Etherington, who played just seven games before a season-ending knee injury, averaged 6.7 minutes.
The freshmen, meanwhile, represent a top-10 recruiting class. Forward Noah Vonleh, ranked No. 8 in the class nationally, has the look of an instant-impact player.
“We can't let a lack of experience or a lack of strength or a lack of age get in the way of us using our length, being a great rebounding team, diving on the floor for loose balls, playing with great hustle and desire,” Crean said. “I don't think there's any question about that.”
He used Wednesday's annual talk to IU students to hammer his point about potential playing time.
“For me, it's play the best players. You earn the benefit of the doubt. I know as a coach I'm more apt to give the benefit to somebody who's older, somebody who's done it. I'm not sure that's what you should do. What you should do is play the best players. It sounds easy, but it's not.”
Tonight's Hoosier Hysteria -- doors open at 5 at Assembly Hall; the event starts at 7:30 -- will provide a public opportunity to showcase Crean's challenge.
“What you do is make sure it's as competitive as possible,” he said. “You have enough different ways to use different players and different lineups, but sometimes you have to go with what's working, go with the guys who are bringing the most confidence that night, and then figure it out the next day in practice.
“I know I've been guilty too many times of sticking with a situation or a player that -- it's just not his night. That's something I want to correct as a coach.”
One player Crean won't have to worry about playing is Massachusetts center Goodluck Okonoboh. The nation's No. 32 player in the class of 2014 committed to UNLV on Thursday night. His other finalists were IU and Ohio State.
IU has one committed player for the class of 2014 -- Virginia guard Robert Johnson, who is ranked No. 42 nationally.