Indiana’s basketball team isn’t focused on the preseason hype.
No. 1 rankings, magazine covers … to a man, the players say they’re not letting the outside distractions get to them.
“We’ve just focused on getting better every day,” Christian Watford said Thursday. “We’re not worried about where we’re ranked.”
After all, hype or no, the Hoosiers have plenty of work to do. Improving their defense and integrating a talented freshman class are at the top of the list.
“It’s a lot of little things we need to do on defense,” said poster boy and preseason player of the year Cody Zeller. “We could score a lot last season; I don’t think it’s going to be a problem scoring. I think defense is going to be a key on how far we can go.”
Considering IU’s turnaround campaign ended in a 102-90 loss to eventual national champion Kentucky six months ago, Zeller has a point.
“We know we’ve got to get better defensively,” Watford said. “We’re going to try to get up in a lot of people, try to create some turnovers.”
The addition of four ballyhooed freshmen will help. Consider Peter Jurkin, the 7-footer who should complement Zeller quite nicely in the post.
And with the Hoosiers deeper than they’ve ever been under coach Tom Crean, Jurkin and his classmates don’t have to be thrown to the fire.
“That’s going to be one of the biggest points for Peter, to be able to just sit down and watch the game even as we go through it,” Derek Elston said. “For us coming in, we were thrown in the fire right away and we kind of had to use what we had.
“When I was coming in as a freshman, I had to try to be a [center], then shoot and do all this stuff. Peter’s a true [center] who’s so long, he just has to sit there; someone gets beat on defense, he blocks literally everything. Now, whether it be a goaltend or not, that’s another debate. He just blocks everything, and right now that’s what we need him to do.”
Fellow freshman Yogi Ferrell gives the Hoosiers four able ball handlers, with Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo and Remy Abell.
“We can all handle the ball, we can get out, run the floor, get some easy baskets,” Abell said.
Working those four, as well as Maurice Creek, into the rotation will be one of Crean’s biggest challenges this season.
Creek returns after missing all of last season with an injury. It was the third time in his three seasons at Indiana that his campaign was cut short.
“The freshmen we have now, very talented … it’s very competitive. We all want minutes. We’re all going to go compete to get the minutes,” Creek said.
A good problem for Crean to have.
“This season could be a breakout for a lot of people,” Elston said.