Indiana Basketball – 12 Hours After Second Half Collapse Against Syracuse, Where Are the Hoosiers?

by Kent Sterling

Tom Crean couldn't point the way to victory last night, but that doesn't mean the program isn't on the right path.

Tom Crean couldn’t point the way to victory last night, but that doesn’t mean the program isn’t on the right path.

We have seen the 2013-2014 Indiana Hoosiers play against bad teams, and now we have seen them play against a very good team.  Based upon those performances, the Hoosiers have a lot of room to grow during coach Tom Crean’s sixth season.

There are a couple of positive things Indiana fans can count on from Tom Crean and his staff – excellent recruiting and a successful strength and conditioning plan for players to become physically able to compete at the highest level.

Click here to follow Kent on Twitter

Unfortunately, there is some negative too.  It doesn’t look like the players develop an intellectual understanding of the game.  There are glimpses of really smart basketball, but the unnecessary turnovers and fouls occur with far too much frequency, and it isn’t just the freshmen making errors.

Will Sheehey picked up a bad first foul early in last night’s game where he bodied a cutter in a way that the referee couldn’t ignore, and then his third foul was a pointless hand check.  Sheehey is a senior, and should know better at this point.  As a leader, he needs to set an example.

Last night, I kept yelling a John Woodenism at the TV – “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”  The Hoosiers seemed committed to doing the opposite.  They hurried, but weren’t very quick.

Against a 2-3 zone, the ball needs to move quickly so the defense is worked into a lack of balance.  Catching and evaluating allows the defense to recover its balance.  Indiana was resolute in catching and evaluating against Syracuse.

In Indiana and Crean’s defense, Syracuse executes the basketball version of what Navy does to college football defenses.  They are a lone wolf of playing a 2-3 zone exclusively with that level of athleticism.  Preparing for them is tough.  As a result, getting the players to act reflexively rather than thinking through every decision is most difficult.

Conversely, they rushed into their transition offense, and that gave an advantage to the Orange as well.

Tickets to Chef JJ’s Pop-Up Restaurant events make a great gift for the hard to shop for. Click here to learn more.

Dan Dakich made a great point during the game that someone needs to play behind the zone, meaning staying closer to the baseline than the defender in the middle of the 2-3.  That forces correct spacing, and opens the high post.  Indiana did that very sporadically.  Noah Vonleh appeared to be most comfortable finding the middle guy and posting him halfway up the lane.

Beating fourth ranked Syracuse on their own floor would have been a massive upset, and the Hoosiers hung in for 22 1/2 minutes.  The 33-33 score at that point was as good as it got for IU, as the Orange outscored the Hoosiers 36-19 from that point until it was time to board the plane home.

Obviously, Indiana had trouble last night, which was expected, but what does it mean for the rest of this season and beyond?

The pieces for Indiana appear to be talented and athletic, but my complaint with teams coached by Crean is that they don’t always interlock effectively.  Given the lack of experience on the roster, it’s early to expect seamless execution and maybe unfair to expect better than what the Hoosiers have shown during the previous five years, but I can’t help but feel there is a piece missing that will continue to cost Indiana chances to win.

It’s hard to bitch and moan about the season IU enjoyed last year – the first standalone Big Ten Championship in 20 years was a hell of an accomplishment.  A flameout in the Sweet Sixteen happens to everyone.  Mike Krzyzewski is a hell of a coach, but in 2012 he lost a first round game to Lehigh – a 15 seed.  No one in Durham thinks ill of Coach K.

One thing that irks me about Crean’s reputation as a coach is the media’s relentless use of the phrase “master of Xs and Os” to describe him.  That can mean any number of things, and only one of them is positive – that he can diagram any offensive or defensive scheme ever used.  What it also means is that terms like “master of getting the most out of his players” have not been chosen by experts to describe him.

Indiana is going to look great on some nights, and not so great others.  The Big Ten isn’t quite the murderer’s row it was last year, so there is a solid chance for Indiana to finish the conference season as high as fourth.

With the #2 and #4 picks in the 2013 NBA Draft coming from IU, Crean and his staff have shown an ability to develop players to a very profitable level.  It’s not like Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller were thought to be #1 picks coming out of high school.  That is going to have a very positive effect on recruiting, and as old coaches say, “It’s not about the Xs and the Os, but the Jimmies and the Joes.”

If the master of the Xs and the Os earns the services of the best Jimmies and Joes, Indiana fans will have every reason to expect championships, right?

14 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – 12 Hours After Second Half Collapse Against Syracuse, Where Are the Hoosiers?

  1. Jeff Gregory

    I don’t see Crean as a master of X’s and O’s at all. I’m not sure how he developed that reputation with the media. As my comment on the other post points out, he certainly hasn’t demonstrated this expertise at Indiana, in my opinion . . .but he sure can recruit.

  2. Doug A

    After reading some of the other boards the Crean haters are out in force which is to be expected…..I guess. I wish these same guys would critique the same way after big wins as well as all losses…..I would respect their position a heck of a lot more. Once in awhile bad losses happen…..ask Saban. My question is always the same…..if he can’t coach how the hell did he beat Matta, Beilein 2 times and Izzo twice and win a Big Ten last year??? Dumb Luck…..or maybe he can coach…..or he had the worlds largest horseshoe up his ass all of last year…..I think he can coach and recruit.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Unless we are in the gym with this team throughout the year during practices, saying what I believe about last year’s game is just a guess, but I think Indiana ran out of gas last year. It was the most talented team in the Country as long as they had their legs, and I thought they showed fatigue during the Ohio State game that worsened throughout the tournament.

      It wasn’t bad coaching unless Crean didn’t know how to save his players physically. I believe it was the tremendous work ethic of the players that caused them to run dry.

    2. Jeff Gregory

      Crean is good at running his offense, but I don’t think he is all that adept in making adjustments or preparing for something different than what he is comfortable with. Sure he beat some good teams last year. However, those teams fit into the schemes that Crean was already comfortable with. That and two lottery draft picks and a coach is going to be able to beat good teams.

      Unless he develops more as a coach which includes being able to coach differently than the standard (gag) ball screen offense, then he has already topped out as a coach. In other words, if he doesn’t improve as a coach, he will lose to a Syracuse-type team 9 out of 10 times. I mean, he had a week to prepare for the zone and his team was clueless. That wouldn’t be so bad had he just been burned by that same zone in the tournament last year.

      I am not a hater. I like Crean. He is a good personable guy, approachable, moral and a great PR guy for IU. I just call them the way I see them.

  3. 95% of Indiana Fanbase


  4. Michael Jones

    I think these criticisms of Coach Crean are a bit off base this year. “my complaint with teams coached by Crean is that they don’t always interlock effectively” This year I think this is more an error in recruiting than an error in coaching. We don’t have any shooters. It’s going to be hard to interlock as a team when outside of Yogi all the players who get minutes are the same kind of players. We have a glut of small forwards, only one PG, no Big 10 caliber starting shooting guard, and really only one good big (Vonleh) who would also rather play small forward. Can’t really interlock when everyone’s best skill is slashing to the rim. Wait till next year when we have a balanced team again and then let’s see if the players interlock.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Good perspective, and I agree. My point is that instead of playing like a fist, IU tends to operate as five fingers belonging to different hands. That is certainly a product of recruiting as well as leadership. It’s tough in the abstract to assess how people will play together, and that is what a coach does. Many times a great group comes together through serendipity, but there is a consistency in a like of dancing to the same beat that appears to follow the Hoosiers.

    2. Guest

      I see your point but technically recruiting is part of coaching. If we have an unbalanced team, that is the coach’s fault.

      1. Michael Jones

        It seems as if all three of us in this conversation have also forgotten about Remy Abbel (sp?). Not that he was a lock to be big 10 quality starting SG, but I think we all assumed he was a big part of the future at that position.

        It just seems to me that a lot of people stretch for reasons to be critical of Crean as a coach. It’s really hard to build balanced teams and it should be even harder to criticize Crean for poor recruiting. No one has recruited better at IU since Bob Knight in the 70’s and early 80’s. It was really easy to recruit to IU during that time, some of that recruiting success was Coach Knight, but most was just the time and that distance was further back then.

        I think the reason people reach to criticize Coach Crean is that they don’t like his personality. To me not liking his personality is easy to understand. He claps too much, tans too much, has a funny hair-do, dresses too snazzy, has annoying catch phrases, too much energy, too much overt religion, etc, etc. Pick your personal reason, but Coach Crean is a proven commodity in basketball, and IU is a program not a coach. A lot of people (Bob Knight fans) follow IU, but are confused about who/what they root for.

        Thanks for your blog Kent! Overall, I’m a fan and agree with most of your opinions.

        1. Jeff Gregory

          I think generally you may be right about Crean critics. However, I can only speak for myself. As a former coach, I see coaching issues. My big criticism of Crean is preparation. I already mentioned that in discussing the Syracuse games (comparing last year with this year preparation).

          I am not sure I am buying the whole balance of personnel issue. While I agree that the team doesn’t have the prolific shooters the caliber of Hulls and Watford, I find it hard to believe that out of the whole team of blue chip recruits, that there aren’t a half of dozen adequate shooters. I don’t care what their strengths are in the scope of the offense, most D1 kids can shoot. On this team, I believe that Hollowell can shoot. He is way more comfortable on the perimeter than on the blocks. Gordon and Etherington are also good shooters. The coach needs to prepare those players in that role, however. Instead, it seems that the team finds itself in a situation where someone must learn the role of the shooter on the fly. When it works, it is luck. When it doesn’t it the lack of preparation showing its ugly head.

          I criticize Crean, but I do like him. I don’t give a flying fig about his tan or his attire. I just want a coach that prepares his team and one that refuses to dumb down the game for today’s players. Players will perform what you expect them to if you prepare them and give them an opportunity.

        2. kentsterling Post author

          Tom Crean ran Abell off the team, which is one of the many things for which I would applaud him. There are people who dislike him for personal reasons, but there are also others who want to see success in the NCAA Tournament before declaring him a worthy leader at IU. Some people make the case that both at Marquette and Indiana, Crean’s teams have underachieved in March.

          1. Mintcondish

            Will you elaborate on Crean running Abell off the team? I don’t know what happened. Thanks.

          2. kentsterling Post author

            My understanding is that Abell questioned Crean’s coaching acumen, Crean took umbrage, and that was the end of Abell. That did not come from anyone on Crean’s staff, but from a source I trust.

          3. Jeff Gregory

            You might remember that I was suspicious that Crean ran Abell off. I was concerned it was because of over-signing (which I think is shady). I also thought that Abell was the wrong guy to run off (as we see now, they could certainly use his perimeter shooting ability).

            However, a coach must have the respect of his players. So, if your information is correct, I understand that Abell’s departure may have been necessary. I just hope Abell wasn’t correct in his assessment of Crean.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *