By Mike Lopresti
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — CHICAGO — We have here a box of sports cliches. Let's pull a few out and see how they fit with the general prognosis this season for Indiana Hoosiers basketball.
It's hard to get to the top, but harder to stay there ...
True. Especially when you'd need an SUV to comfortably carry all the Indiana departees — the Big Ten championship firm of Oladipo, Zeller, Hulls and Watney.
But Yogi Ferrell, the lone leftover starter, has a comment: "I don't think we're going to take a step back. I'm not going to allow it, and I know our coaches won't allow it."
Good programs don't rebuild, they reload ...
Right. Seen Kansas lately? It'll be interesting to see if Indiana can do that, too, with the returning of Ferrell and Will Sheehey, transfer Evan Gordon and all the prized freshmen. But Tom Crean would like to note it's a work in progress.
"Can we gain confidence, and when we do get knocked around a little, not lose the confidence we haven't built up yet?" Crean wondered. "What helps you is guys that have been through it, that know how to get through it."
In other words, nothing beats experience ...
Ain't it the truth? And while Indiana doesn't exactly gush with it, experience will be highly important in the 6-foot package who must lead the Hoosiers.
Ferrell is expected to shoot better, score more and be the Indiana flashlight who gets the freshmen through any early storms. He took 200 to 300 extra shots many days over the summer to get ready and also steeled himself for the challenge to come.
"The game is 70 percent mental and 30 percent physical, that's just what I think," he said. "My mind is going to have to be there every game, every practice. But I think I'm up to the task.
"I see me having to be more of a vocal leader. Last year, I had guys who knew the roles, and they kind of took me under their wing. I've got to take the young guys under my wing and try to show them the ropes."
The past doesn't mean anything ...
Well, yes and no. Ferrell certainly remembers the Syracuse loss in the Sweet 16, with all the fondness of a dental patient reliving a root canal. His left-over emotions?
"Just anger," he said. "That last game motivated me. The feeling I had after that game, I never want to have that feeling again."
Tournament defeats will do that, mentioned Crean, who has been in the business long enough to know how March can be a notable dispenser of pain.
"I'm not over losing in the first round in 2002 to Tulsa," he said, of his Marquette years. "I'm not over losing to Kansas in the Final Four. I don't think you ever get over it. But you don't let it knock you from getting better. And the one thing you don't let it do is define the whole deal."
Crean said that while "there are a lot of sophomores in this league getting a lot of recognition," his sophomores have the Big Ten championship ring.
"And they need to remember that," Crean continued. "They have to understand they were part of winning that, and what they're capable to keep it going. That's the pressure I want them to feel. Not the pressure of expectations, but the pressure of practicing and playing hard and competing every day."
When the going gets tough, the tough get going ...
Crean mentions priorities such as the transition game, rebounding, learning to make the extra pass.
Important stuff. But in the end, grit can go a long way, too. It did last year.
"I'm anxious to watch how the people that are picked to win it deal with it," he said. "Our team, really from about the third or fourth day of April (in 2012) had to deal with being No. 1 in the country. They dealt with it well because every time we lost it, we got it back."
Now, instead of No. 1 in the country, these Hoosiers are picked for the middle of the Big Ten.
"We might have a few doubters out there," Ferrell said. "I think this team has a chance to be better than that if we stay true to ourselves."
Finally, a cliche left over from last season: The road to the Big Ten title runs through Indiana ...
That's one the Hoosiers would like to keep.