Originally Published: October 25, 2012

Crean Keeps No. 1 Indiana Moving Forward

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Tom Crean doesn't often stand still.

On the sideline, the dude's a picture of barely controlled chaos. He stalks and claps and screams and forever slugs something with caffeine in it -- an energy drink, a Diet Coke -- to fuel the next burst of intensity. In practices, he's the same, scrambling from one end of the court to the next, shifting focus to each drill and each player, constantly preaching improvement, waging a one-man war against stagnation.

He does not seem the type to spend much time in deep, reflective thought about the recent past. He's always moving forward. Indiana's rapid progress over the past four years, from a down-and-out post-scandal morass to the preseason favorite in both conference and country, is proof enough of that.

But even Crean, while seated with a venti coffee at Big Ten media day Thursday, had to stop for a moment and consider just how far his program has come -- and how fast.

"I remember doing that the day of the first practice," Crean said. "ESPNU was coming in, and then it hit me a little bit. It was like, 'Wow,' you know? I called a couple of people. It was just amazing to think about it.

"I never want to take winning for granted," Crean said. "I don't think I did ever as a coach. But I do know that after being at Marquette and getting the program where it was, and then coming to this, you really don't ever take winning for granted."

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AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTom Crean has Indiana being discussed as a contender for the national championship.

Crean's Hoosiers were the toast of Big Ten media day Thursday. Sophomore forward Cody Zeller won a unanimous vote for Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year honors and a Preseason All-Big Ten selection, while Indiana was picked to win the league. Reporters spent more time scrumming around the Hoosiers' tables than anywhere else; at various points, Zeller was practically mobbed.

None of which is remotely surprising, of course -- with its potential All-American center and four other starters returning, plus a deep bench and a crop of talented recruits, Indiana is the odds-on favorite to win the 2013 national title. But it is almost mind-boggling to consider the contrast from just two years ago, when Indiana won a mere 12 games. It is baffling to remember that Crean's first season, a six-win campaign when the program was decimated by scandal and the resulting defections in Kelvin Sampson's wake, was as recent as 2009.

"There were some hard days," Christian Watford, a senior who joined in 2009-10, said. "We had days when it felt like we were just stuck in place. It was a constant grind, day after day. But our coaching staff stayed with us through the tough times, and we've constantly gotten better and better."

Zeller's arrival, which preceded the impressive 2012 recruiting class -- newly arrived McDonald's All-American point guard Yogi Ferrell is likely to start this season -- had much to do with that. But the solid four-year contributions of former players like Tom Pritchard, Verdell Jones and Matt Roth helped set the stage, while juniors Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo emerged last season, their skill sets filling out what eventually became the fifth most efficient offense in the country, per Ken Pomeroy. By last New Year's Eve, Indiana had upset No. 1-ranked Kentucky and No. 2-ranked Ohio State; by the time the Hoosiers' Sweet 16 date with Kentucky rolled around, the transformation was complete.

This season, the next step -- the chase for a national title -- will primarily require better defense. The Hoosiers were an OK defense last season, but not a great one, and ultimately couldn't stop the Wildcats in the Sweet 16. (The final score of that game, which involved zero minutes of overtime: 102-90.)

At his media day table, Crean was sure to preach the importance of defensive improvement. He cited his team's expanded strength and conditioning, its depth, its ability to press teams more frequently. It is the final piece of the puzzle, the final stage in IU's metamorphosis from six-win doormat to national title contender.

Given the constant propulsion of Crean's program, there's no reason to expect anything less. In the meantime, the run-up to Indiana's season has felt like a coronation -- something Crean has stopped moving long enough to consider every now and then.

"You don't take the way the fans feel about your program for granted," he said. "I think it's important to remember that. You don't sit and work and live by where you were, but you do think about it once in a while. I'd be lying to say that I don't."

Burke Quickly Matures As A Leader For Michigan

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Although Trey Burke developed into a crucial leader for Michigan last season, he didn't begin the season in that position.

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Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTrey Burke says his biggest job is to help Michigan play as one unit.

"I think last year, he was a great follower of Zack Novak and Stu Douglass. He listened to them and he watched the different ways that they commanded the team," Michigan coach John Beilein said during Big Ten media day in Chicago Thursday. "Novak was a guy who raised his voice now and then. Stu Douglass was more of a player that would go over and talk, get into somebody's ear quietly. He does both of those right now."

Burke's return -- he toyed with the idea of going pro last summer -- solidifies the projections that place the Wolverines among the top five or six teams on most reputable preseason rankings. Burke led the Wolverines to a share of last season's Big Ten title, the precursor to the growing anticipation in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Although the squad lost Douglass and Novak, it's still one of the nation's most dangerous crews with the bulk of last season's contributors still on the roster and a nationally ranked recruiting class. But Burke's presence expands the possibilities for the Wolverines this season.

"I think I just have to give this team confidence," Burke said. "We definitely have the talent to make a run. But I think it's a matter of getting people to understand their roles and getting people to understand what they need to do. … I think the biggest thing is for me to just get this team [to play] as one."

Burke illustrated his evolution as leader as he discussed his relationship with Tim Hardaway Jr.

The duo's early bumps were evident. Burke failed to connect with Hardaway. Hardaway didn't quite understand Burke.

But Burke said he accepted the blame for those struggles and adjusted.

"I didn't really know all the tweaks to the offense," he said. "It's different because I know where Tim's at at all times and I know what he's capable of doing. I didn't really know all of his tendencies last year. And I think that was something I needed to learn from him throughout the season and just learning him more even off the court."

Added Hardaway: "He's an incredible leader. Everybody looks up to him on this team."

Burke is just a sophomore this season. But his elders within the program made it plain in Chicago: They'll go as far their dynamic young leader will take them. And based on the progress he's made in a year, they trust his guidance.

"He realizes the impact he can have as a leader," said forward Jordan Morgan.

Iowa Works On Clutch Situations

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com
CHICAGO -- In 2012-13, Fran McCaffery will coach an Iowa team that's bigger, stronger and faster than it was a season ago.

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Bruce Thorson/US PresswireFran McCaffery's Iowa team could be a sleeper in the Big Ten.

The Hawkeyes will be better, he said, because they can run more of their offense through their frontcourt, which now features 7-foot-1 freshman Adam Woodbury. They're deeper, too. McCaffery said he's so comfortable with freshman point guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons that he might play them together.

What he can't measure right now is his team's response to the clutch situations that baffled the program during the 2011-12 season.

The Hawkeyes finished 8-10 in the Big Ten a season ago. They lost five of those 10 games by single digits. To reverse last season's fortunes, the Hawkeyes will need late stops in tight games, the crux of their downfall a season ago.

"A lot of it is more from within," McCaffery said during Big Ten media day in Chicago Thursday. "'We're going to get a stop.' We want to be better collectively so you're not in that position, hopefully, but the reality is in this league there are a lot of close games. And the tougher team at the end is the one that gets that stop, gets that big rebound. We've got to be that team."

Iowa looks like a potential sleeper in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have lost former star Matt Gatens, but they have a strong frontcourt. They should be more versatile and athletic, too. But the team's defense, ranked No. 180 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, must improve, said guard Roy Devyn Marble.

"We've got to be more in tune defensively this year," Marble said. "Guys have taken great strides in practice moving toward that. I remember games like Purdue, Purdue home and away, where all we needed was one or two stops and we win that game."

Added Eric May: "We failed to do that a couple games. And it was just a couple possessions. That's all it takes. And I think it's going to come down to that."

Nebraska Latest Project For Tim Miles

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com
CHICAGO -- Tim Miles will try to tell you he's the "shy one of the bunch" -- the "bunch" being his five siblings, three of whom he describes as "obnoxious people."

Do not be fooled.

In point of fact, Miles could have been the best door-to-door salesman you'd ever meet, an engaging and natural social presence fluent in the language of endearment.

He also happens to be funny. An example: In a riff about Midnight Madness, Miles said the event needs to be more than "one spotlight and some music from 'Jock Jams II' … which is a really strong CD, by the way."

The good news for Miles is that his new job is for now almost entirely about salesmanship.

That's also good news for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are in the midst of an Extreme Makeover: Program Edition, including the building of a sparkling new practice facility and the 2013 opening of Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln, Neb.

It falls on Miles to usher a newly awakened Nebraska team to actual hoops success. It's a process the 46-year-old is familiar with, but it won't be easy.

"This is my fifth start-up," MIles said. "I've been an NAIA coach, a Division II coach, and I've coached places nobody's ever heard of. But there are always the same challenges. I don't know that people always want to hear that, but it is. It's about establishing your culture, your expectations, and the discipline that goes with it on an everyday basis.

"The hard part is, everyone's an NAIA player," he said. "This -- [gestures around a table full of reporters] -- could be a team, we could all get out there and go. But there aren't that many Division II players, and there's even fewer Division I players, and I promise you there's completely fewer Big Ten players. So it's more difficult, because your pool to draw from is smaller."

The ultimate goal is to get Nebraska on the map. For that, Miles will have to recruit well, and schedule well (a forte of his), get local fans to buy in, and get national recruits to take notice. There is a plan here, even if he's too busy being self-deprecating to admit it.

"I just look at probability," Miles said. "We haven't been there [the NCAA tournament] since 1998. Eventually somebody's got to put one in play. It might as well be me."

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