The best of what Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean had to say during Thursday’s NCAA tournament press conference:
Q. Spending the year so highly ranked and the preseason ranking and everything like that, how did that prepare this group to go into this as a No. 1 seed?
CREAN: We’ll find out. But I think the one thing that you would look back at our season, and there has never been a time that this team has not brought a ton of effort and energy. Now, we haven’t always played great. We haven’t
always won. We lost two games at home. We lost two games on the road. We lost two neutral games.
But in none of those games, or in the ones that we won, did we not show up to play. I think that’s a great sign of maturity. That’s not taking an opponent lightly. That’s knowing that you have things to correct and get better at.
But it’s never coming in feeling like you’re entitled or enabled and you just get to show up and play.
When I look around the country and see that our team did that, I think it speaks volumes about their maturity and how they’ve handled all of this because, remember, a year ago they went from the guys that were veterans in this program,
went from losing 20-plus games and being four wins short of even qualifying for an NIT appearance, to having the highest winning percentage in the league the last two years.
So they’ve done a great job of continuing to stay focused on getting better day
Q. Coach, I know it doesn’t guarantee anything. You’re not going to look too far ahead, but what kind of honor is it for you guys in this program to see the President of the United States picture you guys going all the way?
CREAN: I think it’s nice. I haven’t seen it personally, heard about it. I think it’s really good.
But I’m also concerned that someone said that he was 1-3 in his picks before. So you’re always going to be — you hope he’s right on this one.
But we’re not going to look too far ahead. I think the most important thing is our guys have been really good about taking what’s been said and not letting it affect them either way, and it’s not any different right now.
Q. Matt Brady said he met you maybe a couple of years ago at an AAU Tournament and he was almost flattered that you knew who he was. Can you just talk about what you see from him as a coach and what you know about him.
CREAN: I’ve known of him for a long time, since he played for Mike (Deane), I believe, at Siena, and when he was at St. Joe’s. Coaches pay attention to coaches because we’re always paying attention to programs. I’ve always thought
he was an outstanding coach. And what he did at Marist, fantastic. You can tell he really develops his players, and I think that’s a great trait for any leader, but you can just see — like when you watch them play against UCLA and a couple of their games at the very beginning of the year to where they are now, it’s like two different teams. It truly is. And I think that’s a great sign of a coach and a coaching staff and the way that they develop their team. They’re very skilled. They play very well together. They play both ends of the court extremely hard and diligent. That doesn’t happen if you don’t have outstanding coaching.
Q. Coach, does the history of a 16-1 matchup add any pressure going into this game for you all?
CREAN: I think pressure is however you view it. We can look at it like there’s been pressure the entire year because we were ranked No. 1 from like three days after the Final Four last year, or we can look at it like our guys have used all that to fuel them to make them better.
I don’t think it’s about the seed. I think it’s about how good James Madison is. I don’t know what coach I read said it, seeds don’t matter. They matter very little right now. And he’s probably right because there’s so much parity in the game. When you’re looking at James Madison, you’re looking at a battle-tested team.
You’re looking at a team that can score inside and outside, certainly a great experience, and freshmen that are getting better inside of their group. They know how they want to play. They know how to win.
So you’re focusing on the team and focusing on their strengths, and you’re trying to find some things that you can get after more than you’re focusing on the fact that they’re a 16 seed and you’re a 1 seed. That’s not really anything we spend any time talking about.
Q. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said that he would rather face the Lakers once he got through that Big Ten meat grinder. Did you kind of feel the same way once you were gone?
CREAN: I wouldn’t want to play the Lakers. Kobe? Victor Oladipo can guard just about anybody, but Kobe is Kobe.
In seriousness, this was an incredibly challenging year, and last year was, but this year was because we were in the race. We had a chance to win it the entire way, and then we ended up winning it. So when you do that, there’s no
question that takes a lot out of you. But what’s happened is it’s just built the confidence for these guys, and we’ve spent time this week making sure that we’re getting our energy back because it does take a lot. Then you turn right around and go into a conference tournament.
So to me, when you’re in — it’s this mental and physical warfare for 18- to 22-year-olds playing sports. I don’t use “warfare” loosely with what goes on in this world. I don’t mean it like that at all. But when you’re out there like that and you’ve got to bring your best, and it’s moment by moment, not just possession by possession, when it’s pass by pass, okay, not just segments of the game, that takes a lot out of you.
Really, the epitome of it was for us the day we won the championship at Michigan, it coming down to we needed — we got 53 rebounds in the game, and we needed all 53 to win the game. If we get 52 and they get one tip, goes back in, we
lose the game. So what you learn is that everything matters. That’s hard to get to when we’re dealing
with young men like this, but they just keep bouncing back and moving forward, and I love it.