by Kent Sterling
This could be a very long season for Hoosier basketball fans who have had enough long seasons over the past decade to last a lifetime, and the background din about Tom Crean as the leader of the program is beginning to grow a little louder.
Indiana is 1-4 against teams they shouldn’t be expected to rout – the latest loss coming in overtime at Illinois Tuesday. It doesn’t get any easier with a tilt against Michigan State tomorrow, a return game in East Lansing January 21, and a home game against Wisconsin January 14. Sandwiched in between are games against Penn State and Northwestern.
Fans who expect winning at IU are prematurely projecting a 2-4 start (at best) in the Big Ten, and they are not happy.
This is not the time to jump to conclusions, and call the season over. Indiana is very young, and while the pieces have yet to mesh, they still might. There is certainly talent with Yogi Ferrell, Noah Vonleh, and Troy Williams, but the pieces haven’t come together yet to function as a unit.
Indiana’s 1981 championship team didn’t come together during the non-conference schedule either. The roster filled with sophomores were 7-5 as they begins Big Ten play.
Am I suggesting that Yogi Ferrell is Isiah Thomas, Will Sheehey is Ray Tolbert, and Tom Crean is Bob Knight? Not a chance, but the Hoosiers deserve a full run this season to be judged.
There is plenty of time to call out Crean for recruiting kids who seem to be disparate parts of different machines, but January 3rd is way too early to leap on the anti-Crean bandwagon that seems to be prematurely accepting boarders.
One item on the to-do list for Crean and the Hoosiers is to establish a signature style of play that is recruited to and nurtured as recruits become freshmen, and freshman become sophomores, and on and on. The predictable elements of Indiana Basketball are currently that length is prized, running is encouraged, and turnovers are tolerated.
Missed shots seem to be part of the cost of doing business, as they should be, but when a three-point shooter is hitting less than one quarter (9-37) of those shots while making 56% (47-84) of his twos as Will Sheehey is, he should stop firing from deep. Confidence is wonderful, but shooting from a position destined to fail 75% of the time seems like either arrogance or stupidity. Sheehey is not stupid.
While the Indiana program does a great job quickly building bodies that can withstand the stress of a Big Ten season, that’s only part of the equation. What doesn’t appear to happen is a similar building of the players basketball IQ. It’s almost impossible to accurately assess basketball smarts by simply watching games, but as I watch and re-watch the games, players like Jeremy Hollowell and Sheehey appear to be making the same mistakes they made last year.
During the game at Illinois, ESPN analyst Dan Dakich said that it’s time to shelve all the congratulations for rebuilding the Indiana program. Yes, Crean did a magnificent job of selling the school, program, facilities, and his vision, but “Let’s go!” As with all leaders, Crean and his staff should be judged based upon the most recent results. Uncovering Victor Oladipo was wonderful, and successfully recruiting Cody Zeller was a game-changer, but the report card for Tom Crean and the Indiana program will read “2013-2014”.
Like my grade in Señora Garcia’s S200 class during my fifth semester at Indiana, there is plenty of time to straighten this thing out, find a way to 9-9 in the Big Ten, and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. I waited until the 36 hours prior to the final to learn Spanish, and incredibly earned a 135 out of 150 to snag an A (my successes in the classroom were infrequent enough that I recall all successes with great specificity). The Hoosiers won’t be able to wait quite that long to make this season a success.
Tomorrow brings a big quiz against Tom Izzo and Sparty.