E. Illinois-Indiana Preview
(AP) - Indiana coach Tom Crean is done talking about legal issues, dismissals or the most recent roster makeover. He's done talking about the last two roller-coaster seasons, too.
At least, that's his plan heading into the 15th-ranked Hoosiers' season opener against Eastern Illinois on Friday night. Crean is focusing on the next chapter in the school's proud basketball legacy - turning the program back into a Big Ten title contender and a national powerhouse.
''We moved on from that a long time ago and we're just trying to get better,'' he said when asked about the turbulent offseason. ''They're resilient guys.''
Crean needs more than resilience to appease an impatient fan base.
The Hoosiers have only won five NCAA Tournament games since 2007, haven't reached the Sweet Sixteen since 2013 or advanced beyond the regional semifinals since 2002, when they lost in the championship game.
Maybe this will be the season all that changes.
Crean is looking for more consistency from forward Troy Williams and guard James Blackmon Jr., better decision-making out of guards Kevin ''Yogi'' Ferrell and Robert Johnson, and an instant impact from two key freshmen, 6-foot-10 center Thomas Bryant and 6-7 forward Juwan Morgan.
On paper, it appears as if the Hoosiers might finally have the crucial components in place after going 20-14 a season ago.
The athletic Williams improved his 3-point shooting and defense. After proving they could score at the college level, Blackmon and Johnson have worked on their ball-handling. Bryant and Morgan give the Hoosiers a size dimension they've been lacking since Cody Zeller left early for the NBA in 2013.
But even with all those pieces, there's no assurance Indiana can solve this puzzle.
Blackmon is returning from summer surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Bryant has been limited in practice because of a sore arch in his foot, and Morgan may be pressed into more minutes than expected after Crean booted three players off the team for trouble off the court, including two key contributors in forwards Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Emmitt Holt.
Six players left the program during the offseason, three via transfer in addition to three booted off. Crean took advantage by adding size, physicality and depth to a team that has lacked all three. Adding forward Max Bielfeldt, a grad student who played for Michigan and will be eligible immediately, also gives Indiana more experience and Crean his deepest front line in three years.
''I do feel like there will be more minutes,'' Morgan said. ''I just have to become better as far as setting screens, getting other people open, getting the offensive boards, getting us extra possessions especially with such a short line, now that we have a few more dismissals.''
Indiana was one of the most entertaining teams in the nation last season and cracked the top 20 in scoring at 77.4 points per game. If anything, that number should go up. Indiana returns its top five scorers and Williams' improved perimeter game could put more pressure on opponents.
While Indiana led the Big Ten in scoring last season, it also allowed a league-high 71.7 points. The toughest job Crean may have is convincing a team filled with NBA hopefuls - three of whom considered leaving early last spring - that their path to success will likely come down to playing defense.
Indiana finished 10th in the Big Ten last season in turnover margin (minus-0.82) and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (plus-1.2).
Eastern Illinois went 18-15 last season to finish with its most wins since 2009-10. The Panthers reached the second round of the CollegeInsider.com tournament, their first postseason appearance since playing in the NCAAs in 2001.
They open their fourth season under coach Jay Spoonhour with one of the newest rosters in the NCAA. The Panthers are tied for seventh in the nation with the most newcomers - six freshmen, two junior college transfers and one four-year transfer.
Leading scorer Trae Anderson (13.2) is back for his final year as well as sophomore Cornell Johnston (9.1 ppg, team-best 4.7 assists). Chris Olivier, who led the Panthers with 5.3 rebounds per game and was second with 13.0 points, is gone.
In the only meeting between these teams, Indiana beat Eastern Illinois 94-55 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 1992. That was the Panthers' first postseason appearance as a Division I school.