by Kent Sterling
There are a many reasons I’m not a basketball coach, but one of the reasons I’m glad I’m not a basketball coach is what tonight will be like for Indiana’s Tom Crean. I wouldn’t sleep because I would have spent tonight’s game lamenting that I had no idea how to get the combination of players at my disposal in a position to score enough points to win.
I would wonder whether I didn’t understand something about the game; whether I nodded off during a camp when the strategies for running an offense perfectly suited for a team that shoots it poorly from outside was presented.
I would wonder how many times I needed to tell the players the same thing again and again to make them understand where they need to be, and what shot we are looking for before it finally sinks in.
There is no shame is losing to Nebraska 60-55 at their place. Ohio State and Minnesota did the same thing this month, and they aren’t too damn bad, although I’m starting to wonder about the Buckeyes who lost at home last night to Penn State.
With tonight’s win, Nebraska won back-to-back conference games for the first time since joining the conference, so now the Hoosiers and the Huskers are tied at 3-5 in the Big Ten, one game out of last place.
The Hoosiers squandered a 16-point first half lead, but that lead was artificially enhanced by consecutive banked three-pointers that turned a one-point lead into a seven-point bulge with 5:13 to play in the first session. If Indiana had won, fans would make no apologies for the gifted triples, but after a loss to a program that not long ago presented a minimal challenge, those points seem even cheaper.
As has been the case when defenses collapse to stop the drive, and allow Indiana to weigh the pros and cons of open three-point shots, the Hoosiers turned it over again and again – a total of 19 times tonight.
Few of those turnovers were the excusable kind. Bad passes. Bad travels. Bad decisions trying to drive through two and sometimes three defenders. Indiana displayed a wide variety of ways to hand the ball to Nebraska.
Fans will look at a wide variety of people to blame for the madness that has wrought losses to Northwestern and Nebraska during the same season. Crean will likely be the source of much of that frustration, and rightly so. He’s the captain of this ship. The buck stops with him. If it’s a player problem, the blame can be laid at Crean’s feet as he’s the guy who invited them to Bloomington. If it’s a strategic issue, that’s obviously Crean.
My take is that this is just an ugly season of fits and spurts with a very young team that does the kind of things very young teams do. Crean is trying everything, and none of it works against a team that can move the ball quickly on offense and move its feet quickly on defense.
Indiana lost 70% of its points from last year’s Big Ten champion, and two-thirds of its rebounds. The top ten recruiting class that is now freshman is talented, long, and athletic, but don’t know how to be consistently focused and productive in the Big Ten. The sophomores – minus Yogi Ferrell – aren’t any better. Maybe the Charmin-soft non-conference schedule gave the youngsters a little more confidence than was warranted.
Lots of maybes this season to go with an uncomfortable amount of losses.
There are moments of grace for the Hoosiers where possessions with crisp execution and good ball movement result in an unchallenged shot. Then there are possessions where players point at each other after throwing the ball away.
It’s hard to watch for fans who all think they could coach because they listened to Bob Knight talk about the beauty and functionality of the motion offense. It’s hard to watch for Crean because Indiana isn’t very good right now, and doesn’t appear to the naked eye to be improving.
And it’s not easy for me because it causes me to admit that not only shouldn’t I coach basketball, I don’t even want to.