Indiana Basketball – Where’s the Love from IU Nation for Tom Crean?

by Kent Sterling

Tom Crean could use some love for accomplishing a lot in almost six years, but fans want more and they want it now.

Tom Crean could use some love for accomplishing a lot in almost six years, but fans want more and they want it now.

I saw a TV spot for the Big Ten Network this morning that listed “elite coaches” as part of the magic of its basketball coverage.  Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, Michigan’s Jim Beilein, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, and Ohio State’s Thad Matta made the cut.  Tom Crean, Matt Painter, Fran McCaffery, John Groce, Chris Collins, Rich Pitino, Pat Chambers, and Tim Miles did not.

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My guess is that if Crean sees that spot, he’ll feel slighted.  I can’t blame him.  He earns more than Ryan and Beilein, and the Hoosiers were ranked #1 longer than anyone else last season.  They won the regular season Big Ten crown outright before a series of late season hiccups brought a premature end to a Big Ten Tournament and a Sweet Sixteen failure at the hands of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.

Indiana has taken leaps forward from where the program was after the residue of the Kelvin Sampson regime finally left Bloomington a few weeks after Crean was hired by former athletic director Rick Greenspan, but fans are hungry for more.

They will tell you that they are appreciative of the heavy lifting Crean did almost six years ago to resume the dormant process of effectively recruiting Indiana high schools, and attracting players like Jordan Hulls, Cody Zeller, and Victor Oladipo, but are tired of watching Michigan and Michigan State succeed with Indiana kids like Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Gary Harris.

There is also praise for the way that Crean and his staff help players ready their bodies to compete in the Big Ten and beyond, but the love and respect it appears Crean craves from the Indiana media and some growing pockets of fans is lacking.

On a daily basis, I get comments on relating frustration with Crean that isn’t the typical message board idiocy.  They are well-written legitimate expressions of frustration like this one:

Mark my words, Iowa and Minnesota have passed Indiana in terms of success in the Bug 10. I don’t just mean for this year, I mean for as long as the respective coaches stay in place. I can honestly say that IU basketball is borderline unwatchable. They have too much talent to be this bad. I only watch with friends now so we can laugh at how poorly coached they are. Use your DVR to run back over poor play that occurs, most notably the fact that for as long as Crean has been there nobody ever blocks out in the defensive boards. They rebound by sheer athleticism, which thank God they have lots of. Has there ever been a team so inept at feeding the post? We could have Lou Alicendor in his prime and he would be rendered useless by his own team!!! I honestly could go on and on.  All of this basic stuff has gone on since he came to Bloomington. It’s not going to change because it is obvious that either he doesn’t get it, or perhaps he gets it he just is a bad teacher. I do appreciate your blog it saves me money on therapy!!!”

I use that comment because it was posted as I was writing.  Most echo the same sentiments about what longtime Indiana fans view as fundamentally poor play.

Some view these comments as being from those who still lament the passing of the Bob Knight Era in Bloomington, but I don’t.  They are the expression of annoyance for not seeing Indiana play the style of basketball that became so intertwined with its brand.  The frustration is about execution of principles etched in the DNA of Indiana Basketball, not about the former coach or his polarizing personality.

Of these things, fans can be sure – Crean works as hard every day as any coach in the country, Indiana players are bonafide student athletes studying to earn degrees, and work is being done every day to help players build strength and explosiveness.  Indiana recruits hard and wins battles where the playing field is level.

If you want a coach who is going to reveal himself to fans of the media in a likable way, that isn’t going to happen.  It isn’t that Crean doesn’t have likable traits – it’s that for whatever reason, he is not interested in being an open book.

If you are waiting for Crean to install an offense that will be linked to IU in the way motion was under Knight, that appears very unlikely.  Recruits will be gathered because of their length and ability to defend multiple spots, not because they fit a style of play or because he is “an Indiana kid.”

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Until an Indiana coach wins a national championship, there will be dissent for the direction of the program.  That’s an unavoidable, if difficult to attain standard of success.  He must do it while adhering to rules, and the players need to go to class.  That’s Indiana.

The 2013-2014 Hoosiers do not seem to be a threat to run the table in March.  This season could bend in one of two directions – head north as the young team learns to function together, or unravel completely as the young team faces adversity and splinters further into smaller cliques.

If the Hoosiers put together enough wins to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, 2013-2014 will be viewed as a success.  If they go to the NIT, that isn’t unprecedented for program that views itself as “elite,” but it will be used to make 2014-2015 a lasting referendum on Crean the coach, not the man.

Whatever happens from this point forward, the Big Ten’s marketing department has decided that Tom Crean is not worthy of inclusion in the “elite” club of Big Ten coaches.  A picture of him next to Izzo, Matta, Beilein, and Ryan plus $1.50 would buy Crean a Diet Pepsi, but for a guy who could sure use a pat on the backside right now, it would have been nice.

33 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – Where’s the Love from IU Nation for Tom Crean?

  1. Bo Blackburn

    I agree. You would think with all the Sweet Sixteen banners he has hung that he would receive commensurate laud and accolades.

  2. Dave / New Mexico

    I seldom read your tripe, but this article headline caught my eye. I really wish IU had a decent coach, but I imagine Crean is about as good as you’ll ever get. The fans may as well accept that and get behind him.

    1. Randy Warstler

      I think you are right. everybody wants to see offense but greatness comes from heart – which leads to defense, talking to your teamates, cover each other, rebound on the defensive end of the ball. What makes me upset with Tom Crean teams – they don’t do the little things it takes to win the tough games. They will do it. For one or two games then look like they don’t know what it is to win that’s the problem I have with Tom Crean and that is why he is not Tom Is so Bob Knight. Bob Knight demanded you play defense, rebound, and move the ball on offense. You tried to make everyone on your team better that’s why his teams won. I don’t like the other things he did. Today coach’s need to watch how John Wooden went about the game. I went to his basketball camps. You knew better than to give less than your best as coach’s we need to get back to the little things and do them right all the time.

  3. Doug A

    Kent, I am curious……..did you receive much hate mail on Coach Crean last year before the Tourney? I feel you are being very optimistic for the Hoosiers to get to the Big Dance this year……After the MSU game I am hoping we luck out and get a NIT Bid……and I have not given up on Crean at all……still think he needs all of next year before judging.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      There has been an undercurrent of disenchantment by some since Crean was hired. Those people will never warm to Crean. Some are staunch advocates for his style of coaching and recruiting. There are now reasonable people starting to question the direction of the program. I still believe it’s way to soon to call this season over, and without doing that, IU has done nothing but improve since Crean’s first year.

  4. Larry in Chicago

    Mr. Sterling,

    I have a question about Dave/New Mexico’s comment. He says he hardly reads your “tripe” but seems to comment on many, many stories. How is that possible if he does not read your “tripe”?

    Thanks in advance for your answer.

    Larry in Chicago

  5. Jim

    I posted a link to a story about Luke’s departure to my Facebook timeline shortly after it was announced, mostly just for informational purposes among my friends. I was stunned at the negative responses I received from fraternity brothers (well, we’re all about 20-year IU alums now) regarding Coach Crean, and they mirror the comments in your post and in response to your post. It seems absolutely bizarre to me, the kind of hate he gets, all for only turning around the complete and utter disaster that was IU basketball in the wake of Kelvin Sampson into a #1 ranking and #1 seed in the NCAA tournament last year. Sure, the loss in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse stings, but that happens *every year* to somebody as a #1 or #2 seed. We knocked off #1 seed Duke and Coach K on the way to the title game under Coach Davis, for crying out loud!
    Coach Crean recruits Indiana kids. We don’t land all of them, so what? Coach Knight didn’t either. We’re a clean program again, with real student athletes. We’re landing good recruiting classes that address needs. We’ve got a solid AD that is helping us stay competitive in facilities that help Coach Crean recruit top players in the country.
    I love being an IU basketball fan. IU basketball fans are among the best at any level. That being said, it seems to me that a lot of IU basketball fans feel more entitled than any other college basketball fan base. That Fred Glass should be able to pick up the phone and get any basketball coach in the country to come here (protip: Brad Stevens is not coming to IU). That the coach should run the offense we fans want him to run. That the coach should make personnel decisions we want him to make. Hell, some entitled fan was arguing with me on ITH that Coach Crean and Indiana should tell us everything they know about why Luke Fischer was leaving, because, yah, that’s what all great programs do. They air all their dirty laundry out in the media so that entitled fans can all voice their outrage over whatever they think the University owes them.
    I also cannot fathom the fans who want to get on the coaching carousel, turn #iubb into #iufb with a new coach every 4 years if IU doesn’t go to a Final Four or win an NCAA championship. Just ridiculous.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Agreed. Failure causes anger, and anger erupts into blame. This season might make a lot of people angry.

      What a hiring manager needs to know before making a change is not just who he is firing, but who he is hiring. If anyone has a better idea as to who should be the head basketball coach at Indiana, step right up with that idea.

      And anyone who believes he is entitled to know why Luke Fischer left is going to be disappointed unless Fischer wants to share – and it looks like he doesn’t.

      1. BOB DAVIS

        Crean can’t coach… Last night proved it… we could have hired Sean Miller instead of Crean… stupid stupid stupid

  6. Jeff Gregory

    I am one that thinks that Crean shouldn’t be judged until after next year’s results (as I mentioned in another post). However, I completely understand why there is a lot of souring on Crean. IU turned the corner from the Sampson debacle with the upset of #1 UK a couple of years ago. Last year, they won the Big 10 which was a great accomplishment. However, since that time, they played poorly in the tournament and made an early exit with 2 of the top 4 NBA draft picks and now are playing poorly enough to lose to all “good” teams so far. That has resulted in the school dropping out of the Top 25 and the national conversation. Good programs somehow figure out how to maintain top 25 status year to year.

    Once again, I am willing to see this as a blip and not a new normal. Next year will be the test. If he fails, I have a number of candidates in mind for the job.

    1. Andrew

      As a Kentucky fan I have to respectfully disagree with you, although not for the reason you might think. The Syracuse team IU ran into last year in the Sweet 16 was a force to be reckoned with. The zone is hard to press and Indiana simply lacked the shooters to overcome being bottle-necked inside. It happens to the best teams. IU’s struggles this year compare to UK’s last year. We lost NBA talent, and replaced it with D-League talent, and they just didn’t get it done. There are very few teams in the country that boast top 25 rankings every single year from beginning to end, and even IU was in the top 25 for awhile. Coming off probation hurt IU at the wrong time, just as UK was pushing to the top with Louisville, Ohio State, and Michigan State. IU simply fell behind. I agree with giving Crean another year, because the extreme highs and lows will level out and more people will realize that the talent is there, you just have to have one great season to win a championship. I hate that UK fans scoff at IU’s recent postseason accomplishments, because we had problems of our own between Tubby and Cal. Basketball always works in cycles, and I think IU will be back on track next year.

      1. kentsterling Post author

        I think IU took a positive step today in beating Penn State on the road with contribution from a variety of unusual sources. Sometimes, the five most talented players don’t comprise the most productive unit. We’ll see what happens moving forward, but today might have turned the season around a bit.

        Thanks for the reasonable discourse. Keep the grammatical corrections coming.

        1. Pauly Balst

          Expand on your point on this win turning the season around a bit.

          I saw it as a proof there will be no sure wins the rest of the year. IU may not win another game by double digits.

      2. Summer

        I have to say how refreshing it is to read this from a UK fan. I agree with you 100%. My boyfriend is a UK fan so I have always followed them as well. Watching last season with him I too recognize a similarl cycle for the Hoosiers this year. I also believe we’ll see a turnaround into next season and feel Crean can be the coach Hoosier Nation will be proud of. Thank you for reminding me that there are tasteful Wildcat fans in the world!

      3. Randy Warstler

        All I can say is you must be watching another team. Creams coaching style is to be one of the guys. They don’t do the little things that win games;( defence rebound talk on defence

  7. Rob

    I am one of the people who do not believe Coach Crean is a solid coach. I have always thought, that despite the setbacks after the Sampson time, that IU should never had been that bad. We did not have great talent, but we played so fundamentally poorly, that everyone blamed it on the lack of talent. The reason IU had success in the last two years was because the core players were already fundamentally sound when they came to IU. Now we have talent (Crean is a great recruiter), but our play is selfish and, as one person wrote, hard to watch. Crean is not correcting the play, he just lets it go on. Give half the coaches in the Big 10 the talent IU has and they would be near the top of the standings. Our point guard holds the ball too long. We stand too much. We box out too little. The extra pass has disappeared. And we have such a hard time getting the ball inbounds -getting good looks- when we have it out under our basket. There is more, but why beat a dead horse. Crean is a great recruiter and a great salesman with great passion, but he is not a strong coach.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      One of the great advantages of coaching at Indiana is the wealth of fundamentally sound talent that abounds here. Indiana recruits with a wide net, and sometimes lands a kid who fits the Indiana stereotype of hard working, fundamentally sound play like Victor Oladipo. Others not so much, but then again there are a couple of Indiana kids who play like they are from elsewhere.

    2. Pauly Balst

      To me it’s simple. Rarely, if ever, do I say “wow, that was a great piece of coaching” watching IU under Tom Crean. Bo Ryan teams, Thad Matta teams, Billy Donovan teams, Brad Stevens teams, all get that reaction from me by taking charges, forcing a 5th foul, great inbounds play.

      Obviously Crean can coach, he beat Kentucky 2 years ago. But it’s never very apparent when Crean does a good job. I cringe when IU has the ball coming off a timeout with 10-15 seconds left. I know there will be no drive that draws a foul, no kick out for an open jumper, no pass into the post. It will be someone dribbling listlessly at the perimeter and shooting a 35 foot fall away prayer like a poorly coached AAU team. And you say to yourself “you took a timeout to set THAT up?”

      He’s not impressive.

  8. Andrew

    Why is it that people are incapable of conversing like this on the subject of other program’s struggles? As a Kentucky fan, I am relieved when IU doesn’t have a headline coach, because I respect IU enough to know that with the right combination of coaching and talent, the fanbase can be hyper, energetic, and borderline obnoxious… just like every other team in the country. I don’t understand how you (Kent) can write with such apathy to the lamentations of your alma mater’s fans, and then be so smug and bitter about UK having obnoxious fans based on their incredibly high expectations. I admit UK fans can be overbearing at times, but I also blame 90% of that on the anonymity of the internet. I guess my point is that with all the hate that spews from blog posts and sports-related outlets, why let the anger have a voice? Sports are meant to be fun. I would love to be a sports writer and voice my opinion from the rooftops about how awesome my team is, but I see no point in degrading another team, their fan base, or their university of all things in the process.
    Just my thoughts.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Not sure how what I wrote could be viewed as apathetic. I’m hardly dispassionate, but I’m not a cheerleader.

      There is good and bad in college athletics, and there are plenty of idiots who support Indiana. There are plenty of idiots who support every team. My issue with Kentucky isn’t an issue with Kentucky at all, but an indictment of Calipari’s practices that take advantage of sizable holes in the ability of the NCAA to police rules that should be followed despite a virtual certainty of avoiding detection.

      Nothing really against the school, except that they continue to reward what I perceive as his rampant amorality. The fans have been idiots to me in a variety of ways, so I will use them as examples of buffoons who live and die with their team as a source of personal amusement.

      I enjoy having reasonable discussions about the merits of collegiate athletics. That’s true for fans of any school, and by the way, I really enjoyed watching Kentucky when Tubby Smith was their coach, and despite my misgivings about how they were assembled, the group with Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins, Patterson, etc… were incredibly fun to watch.

  9. barry stewart

    I’m 74. Watched and played a lot of basketball. Coach Crean is a kind guy but can’t adapt to basketball play needs during a game. His teams to do good have to have a floor leader to be successful. Sometimes only 2-4 assists for a game is silly. Deliver the ball at the right time it’s needed. IU this year plays individual basketball. Players not shooting well should pass the ball! I am an IU fan but can’t say they are a good coached team. I can see and know the difference! bfs.

  10. Eric

    Bewildering coach case in point. I still want someone to explain to me why Indiana had all of its timeouts remaining at the end of the Syracuas game. You’re getting blown out, and yet don’t take any steps to remedy the situation? I’m thankful for the work Crean did in turning around the program, to the extent one can be thankful about someone getting paid mega bucks to coach basketball, but Crean is not the long term solution to restoring Indiana basketball. Look at this loss to Northwestern – just the third loss at home since 1955 – all under Crean’s watch. Team was completely and utterly unprepared and unfocused. And that has nothing to do with Freshman – that was true from the top down.

  11. Dave

    Crean is, and has been, consistently outcoached in the 2nd half. I can not find a source to confirm this, but is you were able to look at Big 10 games (let’s leave out the pre Big Ten games which are solely for the purpose of fattening up the win column) you would see a drop off in point production in the second half and that they are typically outscored when compared to the first half. He is incapable of adjusting to changes made by the other team. If someone can find a source that gives halftime scores, please let me know. In addition, he seems determined to be as classless as his 2 brother-in-laws.
    A disgrace to what was once a proud and respected program.

  12. Eric

    Crean has to go. I’ve seen 5th graders playing better defense. Crean just gets out coached every single game. I stopped watching after the Northwestern game. Crean is a complete embarrassment. Crean has become a big joke around the country. Keeping him another year is prolonging the inevitable.

    1. Dave Seaton

      Couldn’t agree more. Seems like every game the other team adjusts at halftime and Crean never has a response. It is a sad situation.

  13. General Zod

    here are some things to think about with crean:
    during his stay here, have ANY of his teams gotten any better as the season wore on, or were they as good in november/december as they were when feb/march came around?
    has anyone else noticed that crean has NO solution when the other team manages to successfully interrupt his transition offense and force his teams to play half-court ball?
    how many times have we seen iu players set a pick/screen in the crean era?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Here are my answers to your questions –

      Evaluating the development of the team as the season wears on is difficult because the schedule is so painfully weak in the preseason. I thought Indiana improved from January thru February, and the players individually improve from year to year without question.

      There are solutions, but they are no well-executed. The ownership is that weakness is definitely Crean’s. I believe the myriad of schemes and sets combined with the youth of the roster makes it difficult for the team to master any of them.

      Ball screens are set quite a bit, but the Hoosiers sure don’t run a pass and screen away type offense. Hardly anyone does.

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