Tag Archives: Andy Wittry

Column: Indiana’s offseason additions were successful pickups

Roster turnover is the status quo in the world of college basketball. Between transfers, of which there were hundreds last offseason, and early entries to the NBA Draft, teams are forced to add players in the offseason and sometimes mid-season to fill out their rosters.

Indiana has had a much roster turnover as any school in the past two seasons. From the start of the 2013-14 season until the start of this season, five players — Luke Fischer, Austin Etherington, Jeremy Hollowell, Jonny Marlin and Peter Jurkin — transferred, Will Sheehey, Evan Gordon, Jeff Howard and Taylor Wayer graduated, Noah Vonleh entered the NBA Draft and several walk-ons didn’t return to the program.

Two scholarships remained available for Indiana as returning players and Indiana’s five-man freshman class, including late signees Jeremiah April and Tim Priller, occupied 11 of the team’s scholarships. Indiana’s coaching staff looked to fill out the team’s roster with transfers and unsigned freshmen. Tom Crean & Co. hoped to add size and experience to their young and undersized roster.

Several transfer big men received offers from Indiana, including Boston College’s Ryan Anderson, Virginia Tech’s Trevor Thompson and Temple’s Anthony Lee, but none of them committed to play for the Hoosiers. Anderson, who is sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, will use his final year of eligibility at Arizona in the 2015-16 season. Thompson, also sidelined due to NCAA transfer rules, and Lee, a senior, chose Ohio State over Indiana.

The Hoosiers added redshirt junior guard Nick Zeisloft, who transferred from Illinois State, in July and they swooped in to offer freshman Emmitt Holt a scholarship, which he accepted in late August, before he went to prep school for a year.

On Saturday afternoon, Indiana had the chance to face a player who had spurned the Hoosiers: Anthony Lee.

Not only did Indiana defeat No. 22 Ohio State, but Zeisloft and Holt combined for 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, 11 rebounds, two blocks and an assist in 37 minutes while Lee played four minutes off the bench, registering one assist and one missed shot.

Granted, Indiana and Ohio State aren’t apples to apples in terms of comparing the two college basketball programs. They have different coaches and different strengths and weaknesses with their respective rosters. Maybe Lee’s 6-foot-9, 230-pound frame and three years of Division I experience would’ve been valuable for the Hoosiers this season, but he’s become virtually a non-factor for the Buckeyes.

He’s averaging 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11.1 minutes per game this season, all of which are career lows.

Instead of getting one year of Lee or Anderson, or having Anderson or Thompson sit out this season but still occupy a scholarship slot, the Hoosiers have two players who are playing right away and who will play for Indiana for multiple seasons. Zeisloft is a veteran off the bench who gives the Hoosiers one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the Big Ten. Holt could be on the verge of cracking Indiana’s starting lineup and he’s on track to be a building block in Indiana’s frontcourt for years to come.

It’s hard to put a value on Zeisloft’s contributions for Indiana. Despite just joining the program last summer, he was selected as one of two players, along with Yogi Ferrell, to represent the team at the Big Ten Media Day. After Devin Davis suffered a traumatic brain injury on Nov. 1, Zeisloft was assigned to address the media. He’s flexible in whatever role Crean uses him in, whether it be as a starter as he was to start the season or as a key reserve. And Crean has also elected to use him as the team’s technical foul free throw shooter.

While Holt doesn’t have the size of a typical Big Ten power forward or center, he has a monstrous wingspan, relentless energy, a high basketball IQ and a commitment to boxing out. His 15 points and five rebounds were crucial in Indiana’s win against Pittsburgh and his consistent production off the bench has made Crean wonder whether or not Holt should replace junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea in the starting lineup.

Indiana fans may have hoped that Indiana would’ve added more size to its roster in the offseason, but they should be happy with the two Hoosiers who filled the team’s final scholarships. They have added depth to Indiana’s bench and continuity for future seasons as role players who make hustle plays, which are often the difference between a win and a loss, as seen in Saturday’s win.

Hoosiers look for a win against Ohio State in Big Ten opener

Hosting No. 22 Ohio State could be just what the doctor ordered for Indiana following its 20-point loss at Michigan State on Monday.

Indiana coach Tom Crean said Friday that his team learned from the loss that it didn’t compete at the level it needs to — the Hoosiers didn’t cut as hard as they needed to, they didn’t play with purpose on offense and they weren’t active enough on defense. For Indiana’s sake, it better hope that there’s nothing a little home cooking can’t fix.

The combination of a noon tip on a Saturday and students still being on Christmas break means that Assembly Hall may lack its typical energy, but there’s no denying the Hoosiers’ home court advantage in Bloomington, especially against ranked teams. Indiana beat four of the five Big Ten teams that it hosted in Assembly Hall last season.

Plus, if the Hoosiers are able to move the ball quickly and unselfishly on offense, Indiana has a favorable matchup against Ohio State’s 2-3 zone defense. Ohio State coach Thad Matta has said that he hasn’t practiced man-to-man defense since last spring, so the Hoosiers will know exactly what they’re going to go up against on Saturday.

Three-point shots will be readily available for Indiana, as the Buckeyes’ opponents have scored 35.8 percent of their points against Ohio State off of three-pointers, which is one of the highest marks in the country. Through Ohio State’s first 16 games, more than 40 percent of its opponents’ shots have been from behind the arc.

If Indiana can shoot near its season average of 39 percent from behind the three-point line and avoid a catastrophe like its 5-of-24 performance against the Spartans, the Hoosiers will have a chance to pick up their third win against a ranked opponent this season. However in order for that to happen, James Blackmon Jr. and Nick Zeisloft will have to figure out their shooting strokes as both guards have had ugly shooting slumps recently. Blackmon Jr. is 3-of-23 from the field in his past two games and Zeisloft is 3-of-20 from behind the arc in his past four.

Crean said he’s not worried about the poor shooting performances.

“I go recruiting last night, I get back in here about 9:30, he’s out there shooting,” he said of Blackmon Jr. “The last thing I’m worried about is him making shots. I think shot preparation, being ready to shoot, coming off screens better, getting out in transition, using the ball screen better, those all become parts of it, but he’ll make shots.”

Rebounding will be one of the deciding factors in the outcome of Saturday’s matchup. In Ohio State’s three losses, it was minus-26 in combined rebound margin. While the Hoosiers have been inconsistent on the glass, they’ve proven they can win the rebounding battle (i.e. +8 against No. 23 Butler, +13 against Nebraska) but they’ll have to get improved play from their frontcourt in order to so once again.

Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Troy Williams had their worst performances of the season in East Lansing, Mich. The duo combined for zero points, two rebounds and four fouls in 27 minutes against the Spartans.

After Indiana’s loss at Michigan State and again at Friday’s press conference previewing its matchup with Ohio State, Crean has mentioned that he’s considering whether or not to make a change in his starting lineup, replacing Mosquera-Perea for freshman Emmitt Holt.

Crean said Mosquera-Perea has responded well since the loss to the Spartans and has since had a good week of practice, but the junior forward may not be in the clear just yet.

“I’ve thought about a lot of things, I may make a switch there,” Crean said before adding that if he did decide to make a change, it wouldn’t be announced in a press conference. “We’ve got to get our execution on both sides of the court and we’ve got to get our rebounding up and he’s capable of doing all of that for us.”

Swapping Holt for Mosquera-Perea would make Indiana’s starting lineup even smaller, but it would allow the energetic Holt to take on a bigger role.

The biggest defensive concern for Indiana is stopping Ohio State freshman guard and potential NBA Draft lottery pick D’Angelo Russell. Russell scored 25 points in the first half of the Buckeyes’ game against Minnesota on Tuesday and he has averaged 18.3 points per game this season. The freshman shoots better than 45 percent from three-point range and makes nearly three treys per game, while also having one of the better assist rates in the country.

It’s a tall task but if Indiana can stop, or at least slow down, Russell, it can beat Ohio State.

“D’Angelo Russell, he’s taken about a 100 more shots than anyone else on the team, but he also passes the ball pretty well,” Crean said. “I think the fact that they can score from three, the fact that they can score in the lane and they can post.”

“They’re getting good looks, they’re getting really good looks and we’ve got to take those away.”

Diagnosing what went wrong in Indiana’s 70-50 loss to Michigan State

Minutes before the tip-off of Indiana vs. Michigan State, my dad turned to me and said “You know, Indiana could be 13-1 right now.” And he wasn’t wrong. A two-point loss to Eastern Washington was certainly avoidable and the Hoosiers were the better team in Madison Square Garden for much of their four-point overtime loss to Georgetown.

Through the 2014 portion of their schedule, they had been playing like a team that could surpass its ninth-place predicted finish in an unofficial preseason poll that surveyed 27 Big Ten media members. Indiana had defeated ranked teams in No. 22 SMU and No. 23 Butler in addition to beating Pittsburgh rather handily. Despite the Hoosiers’ warts — a porous defense, inconsistent frontcourt play and rebounding struggles — all in all, they had managed to play pretty well over the course of their first 14 games. The loss to Eastern Washington is definitely a blemish on their resume and the final score in their loss to No. 4 Louisville wasn’t pretty, but there hadn’t been a night where they frankly didn’t show up ready to play.

That game came on Monday night in East Lansing, Mich. against Michigan State. It was so bad that after watching the game, I had to cleanse myself and remove myself from basketball for a while before digesting what just happened. Five episodes of Modern Family later, I was ready to face my DVR and tackle some game film. Here’s what went wrong for the Hoosiers in their 20-point loss:

  • Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s start to the game couldn’t have been any worse. After posting his first career double-double in Indiana’s win at Nebraska, the junior forward picked up two fouls in the opening 84 seconds of the game. The first foul may have been a questionable call by the official when Mosquera-Perea attempted to cut off Denzel Valentine’s drive to the basket, but his second was completely avoidable. After James Blackmon Jr. missed a three-point attempt, Michigan State’s Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello crashed the boards. As the ball was falling into Schilling’s hands, Mosquera-Perea jumped to contest for the rebound and bumped into Schilling. Twenty-one seconds after picking up his first foul, he picked up his second foul when he should have been running back on defense. Mosquera-Perea was immediately substituted out of the game, but Indiana coach Tom Crean had no choice but to play the forward later in the first half as the Spartans jumped out to a big lead. With two fouls early in the game, Mosquera-Perea was gun-shy when he went back in the game.
  • Indiana’s offense was incredibly stagnant in the first half, in terms of both ball movement and players moving without the ball. The offense was often initiated far from the rim and there was little action in the paint, where Crean has repeatedly insisted throughout the season that the ball must move through in order for the Hoosiers to have offensive success. On the Hoosiers’ 35 first-half possessions, Indiana averaged 4.3 passes per possession and many of them were dribble handoffs and passes near the far edge of the coaching box that didn’t progress the team’s offense.
  • The Hoosiers struggled when Yogi Ferrell wasn’t playing point guard. With the additions of James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson in Indiana’s starting lineup, Crean has the luxury of backcourt depth. Instead of relying solely on Ferrell for offensive initiation and production, something that happened all too often last season, Indiana can use Blackmon Jr., Johnson, Stanford Robinson and now Troy Williams to bring the ball up the court and run the offense while Ferrell plays off the ball. While such an offensive strategy paid off during the Hoosiers’ non-conference schedule and gave their younger players valuable in-game experience, Indiana’s offense frequently stalled against Michigan State when Ferrell wasn’t running the point. No one on the team has a better knowledge and feel for the Big Ten than Ferrell, and he has a career-best offensive rating, assist rate and turnover rate this season. He needs to be Indiana’s go-to guy more often, especially in crisis.
  • Somewhat related to the last observation, Stanford Robinson remains a liability offensively. He uses a team-high 30.2 percent of Indiana’s possessions (meaning 30.2 percent on Indiana’s possessions when Robinson is on the court end because of him — due to a turnover, made shot or missed shot that ends the team’s possession). At the same time, he has the lowest offensive rating (80.3) of all Hoosier players who have played at least 20 percent of the available minutes this season and it’s by quite a large margin (the next lowest is Max Hoetzel’s 108.0 offensive rating). It’s a really bad combination for a player who’s trying to earn minutes off the bench and prove that he’s deserving of a major role in Crean’s rotation. Shortly after entering the game in the first half against Michigan State, Robinson forced (and missed) two bad shots in the span of three possessions. For a team that flourishes on offense because of its floor spacing, jump shooters and willingness to make the next pass in order to find a better shot, Robinson can take the wind out of Indiana’s sails when he looks for his own shot in the lane when opposing defenses are collapsing on him.
  • The Hoosiers’ transition game — on offense and defense — was less than stellar on Monday night. Indiana only scored 10 fast break points to Michigan State’s 23. Much of the Spartans’ 36-17 halftime lead was built up thanks to their ability to score in transition, from their first bucket of the game (a Lourawls Nairn Jr. jumper) to a three-pointer from Bryn Forbes to multiple Branden Dawson dunks. On the other end, Indiana struggled to get out in the open floor and get open looks before Michigan State’s defense was set.
  • Indiana absolutely got worked on defense and on the boards. Michigan State had 21 assists on 28 made field goals and had excellent ball movement all night. The Spartans passed up good shots for even better shots and were unselfish with the ball. Despite not having a primary scorer this season, Michigan State showed its balance and depth against Indiana as nine players made at least one field goal. The Spartans nearly doubled up the Hoosiers on the glass, out-rebounding Indiana 50-28, grabbing 53 percent of their missed shots and having the same number of offensive rebounds (17) as Indiana had defensive rebounds. Michigan State’s offensive rebounding led to 17 second-chance points.
  • It’s a fairly safe bet to say that Monday night will be Indiana’s worst three-point shooting performance of the season and for the Hoosiers’ sake, they better hope so. Indiana was 5-of-24 from behind the arc. Ferrell was 3-of-10, Blackmon Jr. was 0-of-5 and Nick Zeisloft was 1-of-6. Part of the problem was the Spartans’ perimeter defense, which is 13th in the country in three-point percentage defense, but the Hoosiers also missed their fair share of open looks. Time and time again on the Big Ten Network broadcast, Seth Davis mentioned that the game wasn’t quite out of reach for Indiana because of their ability to light it up from deep and go on big scoring runs. There were several situations in which the Hoosiers could have partially closed the gap and at least made the game interesting, but nothing was falling for Indiana.
  • Branden Dawson absolutely got the best of Troy Williams. Williams has been playing well of late, but he took a step back against Michigan State and was dominated by Dawson. The Spartans’ senior guard-forward finished the night with 14 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in 35 minutes as Williams had zero points and one rebound in 17 minutes. Dawson brought energy and physicality to the game and Indiana had no answer for him.

It’s hard to pinpoint what led to Indiana getting demolished on the road at Michigan State. The Hoosiers fell to 1-20 all-time at the Breslin Center, so clearly they haven’t had the best luck playing in East Lansing, Mich., but Indiana won at Nebraska just days earlier and Michigan State’s students weren’t back in school so it’s hard to imagine that the road environment rattled Indiana enough to lose by 20.

After reflecting on Indiana’s loss and trying to figure out where the Hoosiers stand in the Big Ten, I thought of a question frequently asked by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt: Was it a moment or a movement?

In other words, was the loss an aberration and a product of Indiana having an off-night on the road against a good team in the midst of a long college basketball season? Or, does Indiana have fundamental, underlying flaws that were exploited by Michigan State and could be a sign of further struggles in conference play?

The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Indiana’s not going to get any taller and its defense will continue to be a liability — things that Crean & Co. will have to build gameplans around — but Monday night was also a perfect storm of a bad shooting night and foul trouble for its biggest player on the road against a fundamentally sound team in an arena in which it has historically struggled.

However, the Hoosiers won’t be able to hang their heads for long because No. 22 Ohio State travels to Bloomington to face Indiana at noon on Saturday.

Hoosiers look for second consecutive Big Ten road win against Michigan State

On his weekly radio show last week, Indiana coach Tom Crean said the Hoosiers were handed the gift of playing in two of the toughest venues in the Big Ten right off the bat.

Well, so far so good.

Indiana (11-3, 1-0) defeated Nebraska (8-5, 0-1) on the road, 70-65, on New Year’s Eve, but the start of the Hoosiers’ Big Ten schedule doesn’t get any easier. On Monday night, they will face Michigan State (9-5, 0-1) in the Breslin Center, an arena where they’re 1-19 all-time, before hosting No. 22 Ohio State on Saturday.

There aren’t any handouts in the Big Ten, everything is earned. It’s a lesson that Crean’s young Indiana team has started to learn thanks to the 2014 portion of its schedule.

“I think after going through the Nebraska game and with some of the teams we played in the non-conference they have a much better understanding of what it takes to win in these types of games,” Crean said Monday morning on the Big Ten coaches teleconference.

It’s hard to tell just how good (or bad) the Spartans are this season. All of their wins except for one were by double digits but they also lost at home to Texas Southern. They’ve played four teams currently ranked in the top 13 of the AP Top 25 Poll and lost all four games.

As Michigan State, who was ranked No. 18 in the preseason AP Poll, has regressed from early expectations, Indiana has trended upwards. The Hoosiers received nine votes in the latest AP Poll, good for No. 38, and 20 votes in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll, which is tied for 31st.

A win at Michigan State could propel Indiana into the Top 25 for the first time since the 2012-13 postseason edition of the poll. But a Hoosier victory in East Lansing, Mich. will be a serious challenge. Michigan State ranks in the top 50 in the country in offensive efficiency and in the top 25 in defensive efficiency.

The Spartans are among the slowest teams in the nation in terms of the length of their defensive possessions, which isn’t a good sign for Indiana’s run-and-gun offense.

“This will be a tremendous challenge for us because Michigan State is doing so many good things on both ends of the court,” Crean said. “The defense is at many times stifling because they take you out of so many things that you want to do and their offense is capable of scoring inside, in the mid-range and certainly they’re one of the better three-point shooting teams not only in the league but in the conference.”

To an extent, Indiana lives and dies by the three-point shot. The Hoosiers have won while shooting poorly from behind the arc (7-of-24, or 29.2 percent, against Nebraska) and they’ve lost despite lighting it up from deep (13-of-31, or 41.9 percent, against Georgetown), but Indiana’s greatest strength is its floor spacing, ball movement and resulting three-point shooting.

The Hoosiers may meet their match Monday night. Michigan State has held opponents to 27.9 percent shooting from three-point range this season, while also making 40.5 percent of their own three-pointers. If Indiana goes cold from the field in the face of the Spartans’ stingy defense, Michigan State has the rebounding ability and unselfishness offensively to potentially make it a long night for the Hoosiers.

Senior Branden Dawson and junior Matt Costello are two of the top 80 rebounders in the country in terms of offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and three Michigan State guards have assist rates of at least 25 percent. On offense, four players average in double figures in points per game, led by senior Travis Trice’s 13.9 points per game.

While the Spartans lack the featured scorer(s) that recent Tom Izzo-led Michigan State teams have had, they have five players who are nationally ranked in terms of individual offensive efficiency, which will test an Indiana defense that is trying to take the next step forward. Four of the Hoosiers’ past five opponents have been held below 40 percent shooting from the field and Crean credits improvements in individual defense, team defense and communication.

“I think it’s individually-driven in the fact that you’ve got guys like Hanner Perea, Troy Williams, people of that nature that are really improving individually as defenders and as team defenders and rebounders,” he said. “And I think our freshmen like James and Robert are getting more and more comfortable with what they have to do and they’re gaining experience. And then it’s guys like Collin Hartman, Nick Zeisloft, Yogi, people like that are continuing to make strides not only individually defensively but in team defense.”

While the Breslin Center won’t be its usual self since Michigan State students are still off for another week, communication will be of the utmost importance for Indiana on the road. There’s still room for the Hoosiers to improve on defense — namely, protecting the rim, forcing turnovers and grabbing a higher percentage of defensive rebounds — but their understanding on that end of the floor has clearly progressed this season.

“We’re starting to understand more and more how important it is that you don’t overhelp on the ball and give up open threes,” Crean said, “and especially now in league play that it’s going to be absolutely crucial and probably never as crucial as it is tonight.”

Troy Williams makes huge jump in NBA Draft boards

Hours before Indiana faced No. 23 Butler at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the Crossroads Classic, ESPN’s Chad Ford released his latest NBA Draft Big Board. Indiana freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. was No. 51 and sophomore forward Troy Williams was No. 97 on the list of Ford’s top 100 prospects.

On New Year’s Eve, Williams made the jump to No. 42 in Ford’s rankings, and the NBA Draft analyst has the Indiana sophomore as the 10th-best small forward prospect for this spring’s draft.

Here is Ford’s commentary on Williams, courtesy of ESPN.com:

“Keep a close eye on Williams. He’s having a very solid sophomore year and Fran Frascilla’s comp to him as a young Paul George isn’t crazy. He can’t shoot, which is an issue, but he’s a crazy athlete. If he can dominate in Big Ten play and start showing more range on his jumper, he can move up another 15 to 20 spots.”

The only negative listed on his ESPN.com NBA Draft prospect profile is that he needs to improve his jump shot, but Ford lists athleticism, leaping ability, finishing around the rim, penetrating and defending as some of Williams’ strengths.

In the four games between Williams being ranked No. 97 and No. 42, he has averaged 16.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 27-of-44 (61.4 percent) shooting. If Williams can continue to devote himself to improving his jump shot like he did last summer, when he made 10,000 three-pointers, and then show his improvement during games, his draft stock could potentially improve to the point where he could be selected in the late first round or early second round if he were to declare for the 2015 NBA Draft.

James Blackmon Jr. moved up one spot to No. 50 since Ford’s last update.

Know Thy Conference: Elite Eight loss to UConn, Draymond Green and a new diet fuels Michigan State’s Branden Dawson

Know Thy Conference is a series of feature stories and Q&A’s with Big Ten men’s basketball players based on interviews conducted at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day in October. The second feature story is about Michigan State senior guard-forward Branden Dawson. 

Down by two points to UConn in the Elite Eight with two minutes to play, Michigan State had a chance to tie the game or take the lead.

It did neither.

Keith Appling’s entry pass to Adreian Payne on the left block was thwarted by a double team from the Huskies and the ball was knocked loose. Branden Dawson hit the deck and grabbed the ball but he slid over the baseline, turning the ball over to UConn.

The eventual national champions closed the game on a 9-5 run to defeat the Spartans 60-54. The loss marked the first time in Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s tenure in East Lansing that four-year players — in this case, Payne and Appling — hadn’t reached the Final Four in their collegiate careers.

After the season, the Spartans lost three of their starters as Payne and Appling graduated and sophomore Gary Harris declared for the NBA Draft.

Dawson could have joined Harris and Payne, who were both first round draft picks, in the NBA. He wanted to test the waters of professional basketball to see if he’d be better off forgoing his final year of eligibility and entering the draft instead of finishing his college career at Michigan State.

However, a promise Dawson had made to his mother, combined with feedback from NBA scouts kept him in East Lansing, Mich. for his senior season.

“I always told my mom that I wanted to get my degree, that I wanted to graduate,” he said at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day in October. “I was never pressed to go to the NBA because the NBA’s not going anywhere so I just sat down and wanted to ask a few questions about it.”

The answers to his questions told him that he likely would have been a late second round pick if he had entered the 2014 NBA Draft. Scouts told him that he needed to improve his ball-handling and perimeter game in order to play on the wing at the next level.

Self-evaluation is something a lot of players struggle with, Dawson said, and it shows every spring when a handful of college players listen to bad advice and ignore the cold hard truth, and enter the NBA Draft prematurely.

Dawson wasn’t one of those players. He came back.

“I took it in consideration and came back and got back to business,” he said of the scouts’ critiques of his game. “So after we lost to UConn I was back in the gym the next few weeks.”

The 6-foot-6 guard-forward is a self-proclaimed film junkie, but his actions speak louder than his words regarding his passion for the film room. He missed nine conference games last season after breaking a bone in his right hand after slamming his hand on a table in frustration while watching film after Michigan State’s home win against Indiana.

Dawson has watched Michigan State’s loss to UConn on multiple occasions and while the pain of the loss is still fresh in his mind, it fuels him in his final season wearing green and white.

“It was hurting because we were so close,” he said. “I go back and watch it, kind of a lot now.”

He still wonders how the result could have been different if he had grabbed another rebound or made a defensive stop, but he has moved on.

“Coming from having that experience from losing to those guys, it’s kind of helped me, Travis (Trice) and Denzel (Valentine),” Dawson said. “We now know what to expect and we’re now on the same page. That pushed us a lot knowing that we were so close.”

Michigan State followed up its Elite Eight exit to UConn with what Dawson describes as the team’s best summer since he joined the program in 2011.

Last summer he watched more film than he ever had in the past, specifically focusing on film of Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala and LeBron James — all of whom are wing players who play tenacious defense in the NBA.

He also changed his diet.

“No more McDonald’s, no more Wendy’s,” he said. “(I) stay away from that.”

Dawson’s dietary changes allowed him to lose weight in the “right way,” while also toning up a bit. He still has a playing weight ranging from 220 to 225 pounds, depending on the day, but he’s in the best shape of his career.

The senior’s focus on fitness was sparked by the advice from former teammates. Harris, Payne and Appling spent time in East Lansing last summer and worked out with current Michigan State players.

“Adreian told me ‘Hey, bro, you really have to be in shape,’” Dawson said. “Gary told me the same thing. They worked a lot on conditioning, so they just told me to make sure that I’m in shape, make sure everything is taken care of.”

Dawson has benefitted from playing at a university that has sent 41 players to the NBA, many of whom are still in close contact with their college program. Draymond Green, a third-year NBA player for the Golden State Warriors who played alongside Dawson at Michigan State during the 2011-12 season, spent most of last summer in East Lansing.

“Going up against him this summer in open gym and in workouts made me a lot better,” Dawson said.

The senior has modeled himself as a player, on and off the court, with Green in mind. Like Green, Dawson prides himself on defense. He’s nationally ranked in defensive rebounding percentage, block percentage and steal percentage, per the advanced metrics of kenpom.com.

“Most guys really don’t like playing defense, but I like getting up in a guy’s skin,” he said. “I like getting steals, getting rebounds and you know, just doing the little things to help my teammates out.”

The season that Dawson and Green were teammates is paying dividends three years later, as Dawson attempts to be the senior leader that Green was for the Spartans.

“When I came in my freshman year, I kind of watched Draymond Green,” he said. “I watched … how he carried himself on and off the court. Just to watch his demeanor, I’d say that it kind of carried over to how I lead.”

Green has a similar build as Dawson and he has made a successful transition from often playing in the post in the Big Ten to becoming a small forward in the NBA. Dawson’s size makes him versatile in the college ranks, but he’s kind of a tweener in terms of how his game translates to the NBA — having a skill set built for playing around the rim but lacking some of the perimeter tools necessary for a player who has the body of an NBA small forward.

He’ll have to follow a similar path as Green is he hopes to make it at the next level.

But for now, Dawson doesn’t give much thought to his NBA prospects. He’s focused on trying to win a Big Ten championship, then a national championship, and he’ll let someone else worry about figuring out what position he plays.

Dawson says he’s a small forward type, but he doesn’t necessarily like to define himself as a player who only plays one position.

“I feel like I kind of play multiple positions, that’s what Coach Izzo — we’ve been talking about that a lot,” he said. “So I really don’t have a position on this team.”

For Michigan State to reach its 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament and continue its trend of deep runs in March, the Spartans will need Dawson to play one all-econmpassing role — leader.

They will go as far as Dawson, senior Travis Trice and junior Denzel Valentine take them.

“With Gary being out and Keith and Adreian, those really were our top scorers,” Dawson said of Michigan State’s roster turnover. “We’re gonna have to do a lot more.”

At the Big Ten Media Day, he said repeatedly that the trio of upperclassmen are on the same page and that if the team stays healthy and focused, everything will fall into place.

The Spartans only have one Big Ten game under their belt, but they have some work to do between now and Selection Sunday to solidify themselves as an NCAA Tournament team. Michigan State is 9-5, with four of its losses coming against teams currently ranked in the top 15 and three of them coming on the road or at neutral sites. The only bad loss on the team’s resume is a home loss to Texas Southern (3-10), a game in which Dawson was sidelined due to a fractured wrist, but its only win of note was against a mediocre Marquette team in late November.

Like most of the teams in the Big Ten, Michigan State will likely be in the thick of things — somewhere behind Wisconsin and ahead of Northwestern and Rutgers.

Dawson said he tries not to focus on the polls or accolades that surround Michigan State and the conference as a whole. There’s too much at stake to get caught up in the outside noise.

“If we were picked eighth or 10th, I’d say that every team comes out and they play their best against Michigan State,” he said. “Each team is going to still come out and want to just rip our heads off and play their best so we just can’t focus on that.”

Dawson doesn’t mind the spotlight being on Madison, Wisc. and the Badgers, while Michigan State, which was picked everywhere from second to eighth by conference media members who voted in an unofficial preseason poll, remains more in the shadows.

“Wisconsin, they can have all the pressure,” he said. “We’re fine with that because we know they’re a great team but we’re gonna be right there. We’re not gonna fade away, we’re not gonna back down.”

“I think it’ll turn out good for us.”

Know Thy Conference: Q&A with Michigan State’s Branden Dawson

Know Thy Conference is a series of feature stories and Q&A’s with Big Ten men’s basketball players based on interviews conducted at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day in October. IUSportCom had the opportunity to interview Michigan State senior guard-forward Branden Dawson one-on-one at the Big Ten Basketball Media Day.

Here is the transcript of the conversation:

IUSportCom: When you tested the waters for the NBA, what was the scouting report on your game and what did NBA scouts tell you?

Branden Dawson: A couple of scouts told me that I was probably going to be (a) late second round (pick). They told me that I definitely have to work on different aspects of my game like my ball-handling, my shot to (be able to) play the wing and that’s what I did. I came back, I took that in consideration. Self-evaluation — a lot of guys struggle at that but I took it, like I said, I took it in consideration and came back and got back to business, so after we lost to UConn I was back in the gym the next few weeks.

IUSC: Are there any specific drills that you added to your workouts in the offseason to work on your ball-handling and perimeter game?

BD: Just working with (former Michigan State forward and current Golden State Warriors player) Draymond Green, he came up there and he stayed really like half of the summer. He came up there and helped us out, he showed me a lot of drills, he helped me out, he helped different guys out. Travis Walton, he’s kind of our workout guy so working with him, (I) went to Indianapolis to work with a trainer out there so just working with different guys, getting different drills and different workouts to help me out.

IUSC: How beneficial is that to have a network of former Michigan State players in the NBA and guys around the country who can stop by East Lansing to work out with you?

BD: They helped out a lot, because Gary (Harris) came back this summer. Adreian (Payne) came back this summer, Keith (Appling), he was back so just talking to those guys. Adreian told me ‘Hey, bro, you really have to be in shape.’ Gary told me the same thing. They worked a lot on ball-handling, they worked a lot on conditioning, so they just told me to make sure that I’m in shape, make sure everything is taken care of.

IUSC: With Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling gone, where is the scoring going to come from to replace the production of those players?

BD: I’ll say different guys. Like I said, we had the best summer that we’ve had in a long time for Travis Trice, Denzel (Valentine), myself, Matt (Costello), I think we’re all on the same page, we all came in and spent a lot of time (practicing) this summer, so I think (if) we stay healthy, we stay focused, I think everything will fall in place.

IUSC: Michigan State was picked anywhere from second to eighth in the media poll, do you find the conference wide open after Wisconsin and where do you see your team finishing in the conference standings?

BD: Really, for myself, I try not to focus on any of that stuff. As far as for this team, I try not to worry about all the accolades and stuff because, like I said, if we were picked eighth or tenth, I’d say that every team comes out and they play their best against Michigan State, even if we’re ranked No. 20, each team is going to still come out and want to just rip our heads off and play their best so we just can’t focus on that. Like I said, if we stay healthy, we remain focused, with our leaders, I think we’ll be fine.

IUSC: How good is Michigan State’s freshman class this season?

BD: Oh man, those guys work extremely hard. Marvin (Clark Jr.), J.B. (Javon Bess), Tum (Lourawls Nairn Jr.), those guys work extremely hard. They’re in the gym every day, those guys want to get better and they’re great guys.

After recovering from a torn ACL, Collin Hartman has become a key cog for Indiana

In a team meeting before Indiana faced New Orleans in late December, Indiana coach Tom Crean asked six or seven of his players to describe sophomore Collin Hartman. Only two players brought up the word “shooting” in their descriptions of the forward, Crean said.

Little did they know that they were describing a player who, at the time, was the fourth-most efficient offensive player in the country, at least until their coach told them.

“Now if I said (the) fourth-highest KenPom offensive efficiency rated guy was in this room, would you pick Collin?” Crean asked them.

No, they wouldn’t have.

Maybe they would’ve picked preseason First Team All-Big Ten point guard Yogi Ferrell, Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate James Blackmon Jr. or even sharpshooter Nick Zeisloft, but the 6-foot-7 forward (who has been forced to play center at times for Indiana this season) who tore his ACL nine months ago?

Not a chance.

“And that got their attention,” Crean said. “It’s not about what the criteria of offensive efficiency rating is. This guy impacts the game, and that’s where you want to be.”

***

Two days after what proved to be Indiana’s season-ending loss to Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament last March, Hartman planted his right leg wrong in a drill in practice and tore his ACL as the Hoosiers were preparing for a tournament bid that never materialized.

“The news is not good in that he has a torn ACL and we are waiting to make sure that’s all,” Crean tweeted at the time. “Collin has been practicing well and getting better. This is a setback for him.”

Somehow, some way, Crean was generally wrong in his assessment.

After missing the team’s five-game exhibition tour in Canada this summer, Hartman was back on the court for Hoosier Hysteria, the team’s fall exhibition slate and every regular season game to date.

“The day that it happened I kept telling myself I’m going to be back for next season,” Hartman said.

He said he always thought rehabilitation could take between six and nine months, so he aimed for the former. And through the entire recovery process, his teammates and coaches told him that he could come back from the injury.

“If I’m in there every day and I’m working, then it’s a very attainable goal,” Hartman said.

While he has been limited in practice up to this point of the season, he has made the most of an unenviable situation.

“He controlled what he could control,” Crean said, “and when we got into the summer and he really couldn’t do anything but stand in one spot and shoot, we made sure we got him in that spot shooting as much as possible.”

After appearing in only 16 games as a freshman and only playing 16 minutes during Big Ten play, Hartman has become an indispensible part of Indiana’s rotation. He began the season as the team’s sixth man, but it’s difficult and probably unfair to put a label on his role because of how much he brings to the table.

Through the first 14 games of the season, Hartman is averaging 4.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 54 percent from the field.

Hartman is one of the most accurate three-point shooters on team and his catch-and-shoot ability makes opposing defenses pay when they sag off of him.

He’s one of the Hoosiers’ most consistent rebounders and he’s among the top 100 players in the country in offensive rebound percentage.

He takes care of the ball and there’s not a loose ball for which he won’t dive on the ground.

“He’s just got this will and this hustle,” Crean said. “He is a model for what it takes to win.”

***

The Collin Hartman on display this season is completely different from the Collin Hartman of last season.

“The Collin Hartman you’re watching right now post-knee surgery, compared to the Collin Hartman that was playing a year ago,” Crean said, “the only thing that looks the same is their face.”

The forward’s body and mentality has changed since his injury and subsequent surgery, Crean said. And despite tearing his ACL in the beginning of the offseason, Hartman moves naturally on the court and he doesn’t show any lingering signs of the injury other than the remnant knee brace on his right leg.

“I mean, we’re talking about a guy that really shouldn’t be playing at the athletic level that he’s playing (at) because he’s coming off this knee surgery,” Crean said.

Hartman’s leaps and bounds of improvement are rooted in not being able to play the game that he loves while he recovered from tearing his ACL. He hadn’t fully appreciated what he had as a basketball player until it was taken away from him.

As painful as the process was for the sophomore, it sparked a new and improved mindset for him.

“I’d never really not had basketball,” Hartman said. “Just not being on the court, not being able to work with the guys and do everything everybody else does. It kind of just gave me a new hunger almost to just get out there and just be aggressive, be able to help the team.”

For junior point guard Yogi Ferrell, who has played with and against Hartman since high school, it’s not a surprise to see his teammate make major contributions off the bench this season.

Ferrell said Hartman has been shooting with Indiana assistant coach Tim Buckley before practice almost every day.

“We call him the shot doctor, Coach Bucks,” Ferrell said. “So the shot doctor will get your shot right, that’s for sure.”

Indiana’s point guard said more shots for Hartman will lead to more confidence, and more confidence will lead to more contributions on the court.

“I feel like Collin can be one of those guys that can come in and make a couple threes for us,” he said. “He’s kind of looking like his old self a little bit when he played at Cathedral (High School).”

Crean said Hartman is playing with tenacity and he’s talking more than ever before. It’s a product of being in the Indiana program for a year and wanting to play more, according to his coach.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Crean said in regards to Hartman’s playing time last season. “(I) wish I had (played him more).”

Indiana’s seventh-year head coach said if he could redo last season, he would have played Hartman over one or two other players.

But a year ago, he wasn’t the player that he is now. He hadn’t earned his spot in the Hoosiers’ rotation yet.

“Well, he’s earned it after being a guy that’s had to go through this hard, tough process to get himself back,” Crean said.

***

Hartman may not be the tallest, fastest or most talented player on the court, but he has dedicated himself to moving without the ball and out-hustling opponents. But at the same time, he is more than a burst of energy off the bench.

Crean is quick to point out that the former three-star recruit has his share of skill as a basketball player.

“He’s not just some guy that’s blue-collar that’s running around, can’t make plays,” Crean said. “He can make a lot of plays but he’s improving constantly.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore is becoming what Crean and his staff recruited several years ago — a basketball player. Hartman plays numerous positions for Indiana off the bench and he does a little bit of everything, from crashing the boards to hitting open three-pointers to making unselfish passes to open teammates.

“Collin is one of those guys that could do whatever we need him to do right now defensively,” Crean said. “(He) is playing with another offensive confidence with or without the ball that he can do a lot of things within the offense.”

But Hartman’s greatest strength might be his awareness and acceptance of his role. Indiana has stars and potential NBA players in Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams, but it’s role players and glue guys like Hartman who complete the team.

“I’ve talked about how much better he’s gotten and how hard he worked in his rehab,” Crean said, “but he just goes out there and does what it takes to win the game.”

Mosquera-Perea’s double-double leads Indiana to victory at Nebraska

Nebraska (8-5) had more size, more experience and a home-court advantage on its side when Indiana (11-3) came to Lincoln, Neb., but none of that mattered. The Hoosiers bounced back from their loss to Georgetown with a 70-65 win against the Cornhuskers in their Big Ten opener.

After falling behind 7-2, the Hoosiers regained an 8-7 lead thanks to a pair of three-pointers from Robert Johnson and a trio of rebounds from Hanner Mosquera-Perea.

Both players were sidelined after Johnson crashed hard to the floor after he was fouled by Shavon Shields, falling on his right hip and shoulder, and after Mosquera-Perea picked up two quick fouls.

When Indiana needed a lift with two starters on the bench, Emmitt Holt and Troy Williams answered the call. Holt made an immediate impact, beating all five Cornhusker players down the court to score a lay-up in transition. He scored the Hoosiers’ next four points while also grabbing three rebounds and blocking or altering multiple shots on defense.

Then the Troy Williams show commenced. He scored nine points in the first half on 4-of-5 shooting, cutting through Nebraska’s defense with tight handles and smooth finishes at the rim.

Indiana’s frontcourt battled foul trouble, with Mosquera-Perea, Williams and Collin Hartman all picking up two fouls in the first half.

The Hoosiers led 38-22 at one point in the first half, but Nebraska closed the half on a 10-2 run.

Indiana coach Tom Crean & Co. may have experienced déja vu Wednesday night because the Hoosiers led by 13 at halftime on the road against Nebraska last season before being outscored by 18 points in the second half and losing the game.

The Cornhuskers went on a 24-4 run that spanned both halves to retake the lead for the first time in the game since they led 7-5.

However, Indiana was able to take a punch and respond with a punch of its own, going on an 18-4 run.

Mosquera-Perea took over in the second half after recording only one point and three rebounds in four minutes in the first half. He threw down two monster alley-oops from Yogi Ferrell and showed finesse around the rim. The junior was dominant on the boards, crashing the glass with every shot attempt and securing rebounds with two hands. As a team, Indiana was tough on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 44-31.

Mosquera-Perea, who had his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, was one of three Hoosiers to score in double figures. Johnson had 14 points and Williams had 13.

After getting only two points off of the bench against Georgetown, Indiana had 18 bench points. Holt and Stanford Robinson chipped in six points each off the bench.

Indiana’s lead climbed to 13 after Mosquera-Perea made a lay-up with 4:50 left in the game, but Nebraska wasn’t going to go down without a fight. The Cornhuskers’ big three of Terran Petteway, Shields and Walter Pitchford fueled a comeback attempt as Nebraska pulled within three with 65 seconds remaining.

Indiana caught a break in the final minute when Nebraska’s David Rivers couldn’t corral a rebound and knocked it out of bounds, giving the Hoosiers a fresh shot clock with 35.2 seconds remaining in the game. Nick Zeisloft, who was 1-of-6 on the night, was fouled and made both ends of a 1-and-1 opportunity at the free throw line to give Indiana a five-point lead.

Then it was Yogi Ferrell, who had a quiet scoring night, who made another winning play late in the game. After James Blackmon Jr. missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Petteway grabbed the rebound, but Ferrell knocked the ball loose and it went out of bounds off of Petteway’s knee.

In six of Indiana’s Big Ten losses last season, the Hoosiers went into halftime with the lead. This was a game that the Hoosiers would have lost last season, but they found a way to grind out a win on a night when Ferrell and Blackmon Jr. were a combined 4-of-16. Indiana’s supporting cast stepped up and the team showed resilience during several big scoring runs by Nebraska.

With the win, Indiana improved to 11-3 (1-0) before going on the road for its next game against Michigan State on Jan. 5.