Indiana Basketball – Hoosiers Not Invited to NIT; Is this the New Normal?

by Kent Sterling

No NIT, no NCAA, and no CBI means the IU basketball season ended with Thursday's loss in the Big Ten Tourney Thursday.

No NIT, no NCAA, and no CBI means the IU basketball season ended with Thursday’s loss in the Big Ten Tourney Thursday.

It’s stunning that Indiana’s basketball program has gone from #1 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament to unfit for an invitation to the NIT in exactly 52 weeks.

There is also the CBI for schools unable to qualify for the NIT, but Indiana Athletic Director texted earlier tonight that if not selected for the NIT, he and Tom Crean had decided that a bid to the CBI would not be accepted.

The question that is being asked after a season so disappointing that it could not place in two tourneys who invite a total of 100 teams, is whether the Sweet Sixteen appearances in 2012 and 2013 or this season of mediocrity was the aberration.

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Do the expectations of Big Ten contention and routine NCAA Tournament qualification need to be recalibrated?  In the past 11 seasons, Indiana has missed out on the NCAA Tournament six times, and played in the NIT once.  That includes three years of rebuilding, but the 2014 season was not supposed to end quite this way.

The outright Big Ten Championship celebrated last season was the first in 20 year, and the Hoosiers have earned a spot in the Big Ten Tournament finals only once in 17 tries.

A 17-15 final record, despite a very weak non conference schedule, fell short of even the most pessimistic projections.

Worse might be a look at the future.  A team that was unworthy of the NIT will lose a 1,000 point scorer, a postgraduate guard, Jeff Howard, and very likely the Big Ten Freshman of the Year – who is listed as a lottery pick in every respectable online mock draft.

That leaves point guard Yogi Ferrell, Stanford Robinson, Troy Williams, Hanner Mosquiera-Perea, Austin Etherington, Jeremy Hollowell, Devin Davis, and Peter Jurkin who will be joined by soon-to-be freshmen James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, and Max Hoetzel.  Can that group be expected to surpass this season’s result when they appeared to care less and less for one another as the season progressed?

How many of the players scheduled to return will decide to continue their careers elsewhere as their eligibility clock ticks more and more loudly?

When questions like that are asked, it’s a good idea if the guy running the show has some plausible answers, but it’s likely Crean is as flummoxed as the fan base.

Anyone who knows anything about Crean knows he will respond to this latest ration of adversity the same way he has built his career – through hard work and diligence.  Whether that doggedness will bring a meaningful adjustment to the level of success achieved at Cook and Assembly Halls is the most important question and the answer is at least eight months away.

The support among Indiana fans has always been a little soft for Crean – sometimes unfairly so – but this season’s on court work, and the trouble off of it have people asking whether Crean is the right guy to continue to coach the Hoosiers.

There has been a lot of good, but the brief suspension for an undisclosed behavioral issue of Jeremy Hollowell, and the even briefer rip for Hanner Mosquiera-Perea after being arrested for OWI at three in the morning during a 72-hour window between two important conference games have fans wondering whether the inmates are running the asylum.

One thing is certain, Indiana will not move on Crean until there is more evidence that the program will not move forward with him at the helm, and that means he will definitely be back next season, and it will be a year that likely determines his fate.  A step sideways or backwards, and the chorus of naysayers will grow in number and volume.

Indiana fans can be a surly bunch, and one trip to the Elite Eight or beyond since 1993 has them on edge.

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A once elite program can’t look itself in the mirror and call itself that anymore.  The difference between Indiana and other middling Big Ten basketball programs like Illinois, Iowa, and Purdue lies only in the ever aging National Championship banners hung by the work of young men now at least 45 years old.

Was this mediocre season a solitary diversion from regular success, or a troubling backslide that is the first chapter for another era of disappointment?  Time will tell.  Once the snowball starts rolling downhill, it’s hard to slow down.  The snowball picked up a lot of steam over the past month.

15 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – Hoosiers Not Invited to NIT; Is this the New Normal?

  1. Steve B

    One comment about this article: I don’t think Vonleh’s departure is a definite conclusion. If I was a NBA General Manager, seeing what Vonleh’s production has been over the last 6 – 7 games, I would not want him. At times he seemed like he did not even want to play. Although he has great potential, he still needs a lot of work. Assuming that his attitude remains positive, he will be awesome in two more years (and worth much more money).

    1. kentsterling Post author

      NBA GMs draft potential over productivity, and that’s why Vonleh will walk away. Potential in the eyes of the NBA drops over time, even when the reality improves. Vonleh might be wise to stay, but he didn’t re-class in high school because he couldn’t wait to get to college.

  2. Dave M

    It’s with a heavy heart and mixed feelings that I am view this season and the near future of IU basketball. Sure, Coach Crean righted the ship. Coach Crean’s team was rated #1 last year. I’m not settling but it is understandable that IU didn’t match up well against the Wisconsins and Syracuses last year. But, I wonder why IU can’t find a half-court offense and why IU turns over the ball so much.

    Oladipo and Zeller left early. Kudos to those two. And Coach Crean is left trying to transition from a freshman-heavy team into a contender. IU beat the best this year and lost to the others in the B1G. That just tells me that the team doesn’t get how to win. The team doesn’t get how to do their best each and every possession.

    Is it the coaching or the team? Well, of course it’s both. But, Crean is now on double-secret probation for sure.

    And, unfortunately, Vonleh will likely jump to the NBA. And, next year Yogi will be still dribbling as the shot clock winds down. Or leaving his feet to pass(?). So, Coach Crean will likely be gone in a year or two. That is if and when AD Glass can find a decent Head Coach Prospect.

  3. Jeff Gregory

    If Vonleh goes, Crean should try to work out a deal with Glass to bow out before IU wastes another year.

    Here’s the thing: If Crean drags out another year, then the next retooling of the program with a new leader has to be delayed. Leaving now will benefit both IU and Crean. Crean will leave of his own accord and not face being fired with TWO declining seasons. IU gets to start a new course right away.

    I just don’t see Crean turning this thing around if Vonleh leaves.

    1. Pauly Balst

      Me either, and Vonleh is leaving.

      I would like to see a productivity analysis comparing the top NBA freshman draft prospects this year. I look at Vonleh and think never has so little been done with so much, compared to a Jabari Parker. But my instinct may be way off, I just don’t know.

      If Crean can’t utilize a kid like him better than he did this year, I don’t know what to say. It’s not as if Vonleh had to fight for playing time at a top program.

  4. Pauly Balst

    Not even making the NIT turns the heat up by 30-50% in my estimation. The flames will clearly extend to the second rack, where Fred Glass is sitting.

    St Patricks Day 2015 may be Creans expiration date at Indiana, if we don’t make the tournament. It may be March 24 if we make it, bow out quickly, and don’t have a tremendous 2016 class on tap.

    If Coach Wilson doesn’t progress in football (I think he will, I’m a fan), and Crean is not dismissed, Fred Glass seat will be white hot.

    If people care. My fear is ambivalence.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Who doesn’t love Nelson Muntz, but don’t get too chipper with a second rounder against Wichita State, and a third rounder against Louisville and Rick Pitino in Indy.

      1. Bo Blackburn

        I am not looking past Kansas State. The Midwest Bracket is crazy. But I think if Randle plays like he can and doesn’t fade, we can handle our first two games. We beat Louisville before they got better, so that would be interesting. 1 game at a time. Will miss the candy stripes in the tourney.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          I would look past K-State. Bruce Weber is straight up bananas. Kentucky should roll in that 8/9 matchup.

          1. Bo Blackburn

            I take nothing for granted. BTW, the only Multiple title winners not in this year’s NCAA is Indiana and San Francisco. I feel confident Indiana will regain prominence before San Fran.

  5. Warren in TN

    We should all know by now that re-tooling after losing top notch talent is a difficult thing to deal with and have success immediately afterwards. Kentucky had its’ hands full last year, and the loss of Nerlens Noel made it a virtual certainty the Cats’ wouldn’t make the NCAAT a year after winning a national title. Losing Oladipo and Zeller put IU in the same difficult situation for this season, in my eyes.

    That said, the tolerance level for a down year after winning a national title as opposed to a sweet sixteen appearance makes a difference when moving forward after said disappointing season. However, for a longer term outlook, a program has to temper its’ immediate judgment when making a coaching change.

    In this era of college basketball, the fate of teams lies largely with the young, talented players returning that were expected to have a big impact on the program. Losing key players after only one season – that were hoped to stay two years or more – can make or break even the most elite program’s success in a season now.

    Thus, I think Indiana and Kentucky both find themselves in a very similar situation after this year. Unless a coach can truly reload with very high caliber freshmen coming in every season, the margin for error is razor thin between success and failure.

    If Vonleh leaves, Indiana is in a position this upcoming season not too much unlike this year. Crean’s incoming class has to produce (bigtime) or the results are likely to be very similar. The ceiling doesn’t appear to provide that much headroom for wild success. The situation is very difficult for Crean, as the heat is on, and the next year or two will undoubtedly be a litmus test for his survival as IU head coach.

    So the important question for Indiana (at least for me) becomes this ….

    Can Crean retain a few key players and recruit enough high caliber talent to finally transition the program onto an elite level?

    I would think that the answer to that is creeping in (considering the incoming recruiting class this season) and that answer is ultimately …. NO, he won’t and he can’t.

    If Indiana has another mediocre season and the NEXT incoming class looks to provide little relief, then next year should be the litmus test that fails Crean for good at IU. After years of being coach, he’s had plenty of time to recruit and get the players he wants in his system. If it isn’t working at the end of next year, with significant hope on the recruiting front by the end of the season, it’s sad, but he has to go, regardless the buyout.

    At that point, it’s a given that rebuilding will, once again, take a few years to get the program on solid ground. The next coach will be the most important hire in the history of Indiana basketball. Glass has to get it 100% right, or the NIT (or worse) may very well be the new normal for Indiana. The program could be on permanent life support. It’s a tough, tough situation, and I feel for Hoosier nation.

    Ultimately, Crean has earned another season, he’s done things the right way, has honored the program as best he could, but at this point, I think the writing is on the wall, considering the time he’s put in.

    I’ll be here watching and hoping the best that college basketball hasn’t permanently lost a blue blood that brought so much to the sport I love for so many years. And I say that as a rival Kentucky fan that takes liberties to take a dig at you guys, like you do us, but all in good jest. Just get er’ done and get that ship sailing again for the good of us all !

    With respects,

  6. Philboyd Studge


    I’ve been puzzling over this phrase: “The snowball picked up a lot of steam over the past month.”

    If the snowball is steaming, does that mean its in a warm place, as in a snowball’s chance in hell? If so, you may have found the apt metaphor for Tom Crean’s chances of turning things around in Bloomington.

    Sorry, that’s all I have today. Alas, all the fun I’ve gotten out of decades of Hoosier hate dating back to when it was a real rivalry with Kentucky for Top Program status in the 1970s and 1980s is fading year by year as the Hoosiers sink deeper into irrelevancy. Last year briefly promised a revival. But it was an illusion brought about by the unlikely intersection of an NBA lottery player loyal to home (Zeller) a fluke find (Oladipo) and the last hurrah of the kids who first bought Crean’s pitch (Watford, Hull, etc.)

    Reproducing that at Indiana is very unlikely. Trey Lyles is much more typical than Cody Zeller. And when the Top 40 kids look at what happened with Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams, who both got worse as the season went on, the message is clear: Crean can’t help guys develop quickly for the league.

    When you see how much better Kentucky’s starting five — ALL FRESHMEN — were in the Florida game yesterday compared to November, the difference is striking. Were the Cats over-hyped? Sure. There was no John Wall or Anthony Davis on this team, never mind a Chris Webber or Juwan Howard. But have all of the players improved? Absolutely. Smart basketball people know that. The Cats may not have a big run in them this March, but getting this collection to the point where they have a shot was a much underrated coaching job by John Calipari. A team of emotionally raw freshmen dealing with absurd hype in the crucible of Lexington placed in Crean’s hands would have been waiting out the NIT bids yesterday too. Remember: After the 2012 championship Kentucky lost 98.5 percent of its scoring and 99 percent of its rebounding. It was a bigger rebuilding job than Crean faced in his first year, except of course for the stigma of major NCAA violations.

    That people so vastly overrated those teams of almost all freshmen is a testament to the Kentucky/Calipari brand name, not a reflection of reality. And now, slowly, Kentucky is seeing some of those guys stick around — Poythress and Johnson and Lee and maybe the Harrisons, possibly Cauley-Stein or Young (not likely) and Willis and Hawkins. 2015 will have some very good juniors and sophomores to go with 4 additional McD AAs. A return to the Final Four next year, for a team the hype-meisters will overlook, is very realistic.

    Today there are two ways to the top: The way Kentucky did it especially in 2012 but also in 2010 and 2011, or the way Florida is trying to do it this year, or Wichita State or Butler or Louisville; get a bunch of near-NBA talents and develop them for 4-years. Crean doesn’t have the brains or talent or charisma or raw coaching skill or, especially, the patience and personality to pull off either method. He’s already tried both at Indiana, and failed. In 16 years as a head coach, he’s gotten past the Sweet 16 exactly once, riding the improbable rise of Dywane Wade.

    In the end, last year’s “We’re Back!” team was no more than a Sweet 16 squad that probably should have lost in the round of 32. And it represents Crean’s ceiling, which he will never reach again. I almost wish it were not so for purposes of resurrecting the rivalry. But Indiana is toast until it lucks into the right guy at the helm.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      So, the collapse of the Wildcats this season, peaking with a preseason number one ranking and bottoming out late in the season as they fell completely out of the rankings is actually a positive for Kentucky? They didn’t underachieve, the early season valuations were due to the power of their own brand? That is the kind of massive rationalization that makes picking the emotional scabs of Big Blue Nation so much fun.

      One correction – not sure what was improbable about the rise of Dwyane Wade. Everyone in basketball knew exactly what kind of player he was. Crean found a way to get him admitted.

      When Crean grabs the 150th ranked player and he turns into the #2 overall selection, it’s a fluke. When Calipari signs the #13 kid in the 2012 class and he fails to make it to the NBA after his sophomore season, that’s called development?

      I’m no honk for Crean, but he shouldn’t be penalized for his successes AND failures.

      About Vonleh, I thought there was progress. He should be a high school senior, and he was Big Ten Freshman of the Year. A year ago, he was reed thin and raw. Did he get the ball as often as fans would have liked. Not close.


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