Indiana Basketball – Nine Solutions for the Hoosiers Problems

by Kent Sterling

Tom Crean will get at least one more chance to prove that he's the right guy for the Indiana job, but a couple of alterations might help.

Tom Crean will get at least one more chance to prove that he’s the right guy for the Indiana job, but a couple of alterations might help.

If Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean didn’t believe he was in trouble before, the fact that I am offering advice as to how the program can move forward should sufficiently spook him.

I am not a basketball coach, but I’ve seen successful strategies employed in sports and in business, and there are commonalities among them that allow for fairly simple corrections.  In no way am I asserting that I would be a better coach than Tom Crean, but I see things during games that spurs thought, and I like to share thoughts.

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Indiana Basketball foundered a bit this season, and there are some reasons for that.  Offering counsel from far outside the program – I did not watch a single practice this year – always allows for the chance what I advocate has already been tried or is in the process of implementation.

I am not an employee of Indiana Athletics, but I have been trained in the practice of both leading and contributing to a brainstorm.  My objective was “In what ways might we improve the on-court performance of Indiana Basketball?”

I came up with 69 ideas, and then voted for my 20 favorites, and finally distilled them down to nine areas of concern that could be easily remedied with a single action step.

Here are nine pieces of gentle guidance to help ease the Hoosiers into an era where invitations to tournaments not requiring a fee are an annual event:

Improve the non-conference schedule.  I’m not talking about playing a bunch of top 20 teams, but dropping completely those teams who are likely to wind up with an RPI that ranks in the bottom half of D-1.  And why not keep it local?  Play Indiana State, IPFW, and Valpo, as long as they seem to be reasonably good.  If it’s true that “We are Indiana,” as AD Fred Glass asserted as the reason for not playing in the CBI, the same logic should apply for non-conference scheduling.  There are two great reasons to improve the portion of the schedule that can be controlled.  Wins should never cause RIP death, and fans deserve competitive contests.  Indiana should never ever play a school whose mascot a well informed fan cannot name – i.e. Presbyterian, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Appalachian State, etc…

Decide on a basketball system and recruit to it.  It seems Indiana is always adjusting to the styles of its opponents.  Indiana runs a bunch of sets, and tries to push the ball, but appears to be without a style that determines the skill set of recruits.  Bo Ryan runs swing, so he needs a very particular type of guy to play it.  Jim Boeheim defends with a 2-3 zone, and recruits to it.  Indiana appears to be enamored with length and versatility, but those are commonly coveted attributes.

Recruit with specificity.  Indiana casts a very wide net, offering as many as 50 kids per class.  That doesn’t exactly make a player feel like a special target.  Indiana shouldn’t shop for Ford Tauruses, and buy in bulk.  Crean should target very unique players, so that being recruited by Indiana is a badge of honor.  I don’t know the intimate details of the recruitment of Michigan State’s Gary Harris, but while he was debating the merits of the Spartans and Hoosiers, Jeremy Hollowell committed to Indiana.  That appeared to be the final scholarship available in that class, and Harris committed to Tom Izzo not long after.  Even at that point Harris vs. Hollowell was an easy call.  Maybe Harris would still have pledged Izzo, maybe not.

Dispose of mistakes and malcontents quickly.  Regardless of the nomenclature of the NCAA, basketball players at Indiana are employees, and when they step way out of line or mope during games, they should be fired.  There are those close to the Indiana program who question the priorities of the players.  Too much partying going on they say.  Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s OWI arrest during a 72-hour period between important games speaks to that.  If you want to stop a behavior, bringing down the hammer on a violator usually serves as a sufficient corrective strategy.  Firing Mosquera Perea might have gotten the attention of the team.  A very smart boss once told me, “One mistake, it’s on the employee.  Second mistake is owned by the manager.”  I hope there isn’t a second mistake.

The assistants should tone it down.  When a player hears one voice, following directions is easy.  When there are five voices, nothing gets through.  Until I sat behind the bench at the Big Ten Tournament, I had no idea the cacophony of guidance being provided by the staff during live ball moments of the game.  Maybe I have trouble focusing, but there was so much communication, I couldn’t pay attention to anyone.

Anoint one leader.  I’ve spoked to several players, and all feel they are either current leaders, or will be leaders next year.  If everyone is a leader, no one is there to follow.  There were huddles prior to foul shots this season where all five players were taking charge simultaneously.  Voices were raised, and arms flailed.  That’s a problem.

Reduce number of substitutions.  Not sure how players can get into the flow of the game or adapt to playing as a unit when that unit sees relentless change.  I get the concept of cycling fresh legs, but the flow of a basketball game is corrupted by constant change.  [This guidance is likely me escaping my depth.  There are reasons to substitute, and we aren’t privy to all of them.  With explanation, I might understand the endless rotation.

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Teach the kids the game, and let them play it.  I am no fan of Bob Knight, and believe that Indiana was a late in firing him, but one thing he did very well was teach his players the game and let them win or lose it.  Better to have five smart players capable of making the correct adjustments than one coach serving as the puppet master.  Crean should sit down once in awhile and trust his kids.

Improve the message to the media.  Indiana Basketball should be more transparent with the media.  There is no sense among the media of who Crean is or what he stands for, and that is a bigger problem that 17-15 and no invite to the NIT.  Coaches who use the media correctly are credited with wins and blameless for losses.  Crean is blamed by the media and fans for most losses, and credited with very few wins.

There are a couple of things that I can say about Crean that will dispel thoughts to the contrary.  There are people who believe he doesn’t know a lot about basketball, and that’s laughable.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge.  Crean is also seen as a self-promoter.  I’ve never gotten that vibe in talking to him.  Fans see a guy who is paid over $3-million for coaching basketball, and they believe Crean has it made. That giant stack of cash probably does as much to make life tough for Crean as it helps.  If he loses the Indiana gig, where in the hell is he going to replace that kind of jack.  If Indiana is a top ten coaching job – I think it is – there is nowhere to go but down after he leaves IU.  That puts crazy pressure on the guy, and makes being a little uptight completely understandable.

As you do your duty as an Indiana fan and judge Crean’s work on a variety of message boards, remember he’s a human being and not a caricature.  He’s doing all he can the best he can.  Whatever else you think about him, even his harshest critics who have spent five minutes with the guy will concede that.

Next year is a crossroads year for IU.  Another 17-15 record, and it won’t just be the vultures who call for a change.  There are problems that have caused a backslide, and there are corrections for all of them before getting to a change in leadership, and that is why Fred Glass will bring back Crean.  Problems get solved means leadership is sound.  Problems continue, and leadership must be changed.

25 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – Nine Solutions for the Hoosiers Problems

  1. Jeff Gregory

    I agree on all counts. I wouldn’t say Crean doesn’t know basketball. However, he does seem to have problems applying what he knows or teaching it.



  2. Bryan

    I’m glad you gave a little lip service to the one thing that most fans have been clamoring about since mid-year last season (i.e., the substitutions). It’s an otherwise interesting list. I also think letting Cheaney leave was a catastrophic mistake, and I wish there were more information available as to what, if anything, could have been done to keep him and whether the university ignored those options. There seems to be a lack of team unity this year and I think that has a lot to do with losing Calbert.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      If Cheaney wants to continue to climb toward his goal of being a head coach, sliding to St. Louis was a just move. If there had been an opening on the Indiana staff, I’m sure he had earned every chance to be highly considered. Short of firing one of the current coaches, I’m not sure what option was available for Crean to move Cheaney up the ranks.

      You might be right about the effect Cheaney leaving had on the team. Maybe the freshmen would have developed more quickly. Hard to say one way or the other. There was a distinct lack of unity this season, but I don’t know whether it was caused by the losing, or was the cause for the losing.

  3. Philboyd Studge

    When I step out of my somewhat contrived persona of Hoosier basher, I can actually feel sympathy for Tom Crean. As with any coach who sees things get off the rails, a good portion of it is beyond his control and it is much harder to stop a cascade of problems from becoming a calamity than it is to occasionally ride some good fortune to a happy place.

    I think your list is pretty good Kent. What it suggests, and what I think is the underlying problem for Crean, is that he hasn’t had the patience, or perhaps the vision to commit to a plan and see it through. That is the great lesson of Dean Smith, Mike K., many others who stumbled for a while, but were unwavering in what they believed would succeed, and finally saw it pay off.

    Crean has been a dabbler when it comes to filling his roster: focus of the wealth of talent in Indiana one day, play a somewhat sordid game with the AAU program that yielded Hanner Perea, dip a toe into the one-and-done pool with Noah Vonleh, get the ‘Classic Hoosier’ kids like Hulls and Etherington, go the “best available athlete” route and cull through the Oak Hills of the world for the guys Kentucky and UNC take a pass on like Troy Williams.

    The problem is that the pudding won’t congeal. You end up with guys with wildly disparate approaches to the game, some mismatched attitudes, and not enough time — or the extremely unusual aptitude — to put the unlike pieces together before they fly apart.

    The challenge which I suspect will be insurmountable is that while there was plenty of room for the patient approach in the wake of the Kelvin Sampson debacle, now it is likely too late. He doesn’t have three or four years to pull a “Tom Crean Team” whatever that might be, together. He’s got the left overs — already a pretty motley crew — from a 17-15 team, minus senior leadership in Sheehy and raw talent in Vonleh. He’s plugging holes below the waterline of the Titanic, and every short term solution, a JUCO power forward, a marginal transfer, deepens the overall crisis.

    I’m not kidding when I say I genuinely feel for the guy. He probably needs a Deus ex machina on the order of a guy with Dywane Wade level talent — who can show that in year one — to turn things around. That’s not James Blackmon Jr., much less Max Hoertzel (sp?). Maybe Trey Lyles…

    1. Pauly Balst

      Philboyd, you have the gift of clarity of thought. You should write (perhaps you do). An interesting person I’d probably enjoy a beer with. I never thought my kids could put their years of Hellenic School to work channelling Euripides on

      I agree with your points.

      Our ace in the hole in my opinion, however, is Indiana continues to be a prolific producer of domestic basketball talent. The fix is simple, the execution is difficult.

    2. kentsterling Post author

      Great points. One of the problems with a great many coaches is they are smitten with athletic attributes, and believe they can magically infuse them with the attitude needed to function as a unit.

      I tried to get coaches everywhere interested in recruiting two kids my son played AAU basketball with. Both were great kids with team first attitudes. One was tall but skinny, and the other was a floppy haired kid who was undersized for a big. Dozens of coaches took a look during one tournament or another, and all but a few passed. JaJuan Johnson worked his ass off at Purdue to become the Big Ten Player of the Year, the Pete Newell Award Winner, and a First Team All-American. Matt Howard led Butler to two consecutive NCAA Championship Games, and college basketball’s student-athlete of the year.

      Not only did coaches pass, they passed with a haughtiness that was insulting. I would fault my sales pitch except the coaches did come out to watch.

      The problem was (and is) exactly what you cite – coaches herded disparate parts to form a machine that simply won’t run.

  4. john

    I cant help but wonder how many of these contributors are actually kent sterlings various personalities? who Is this bennet fellow from Virginia? he plays ugly ball. ugly basketball is a beautiful thing when your team plays it. if these kids are mucking up then muck them up. I don’t mean laps and bleacher jumps I mean hit them where it hurts so they don’t do it again and deter others from doing it to begin with. the more I read the more it sounds like sampsons kids. one big difference is tom crean is a decent person whereas kelvin Sampson was a walking talking turd. so, kents, tell us about this bennet guy.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Bennett was supposedly a candidate who spurned IU’s advances back in 2008 when the the job was open. Great guy, really good coach. Son of former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, and all-time NCAA D-1 leader in 3pt percentage.

      I have many personalities, but all write under the same name – Shirley Stutz.

  5. Rex Dwyer

    If he knows basketball he does not show it. He does not recruit or play size. He shouldn’t have let Fisher go. But he did not play him. He puts two guys under 6′ on the court at the same time. He just does not understand size. He has no shooters. How can he be in Indiana and have no shooters. Sorry, I disagree that he knows basketball. Even at Marquette he never had size.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      There may be disagreements in how Tom Crean’s knowledge is applied, but it’s ludicrous to suggest that he doesn’t know basketball. Very difficult to recruit size at a mid-major like Marquette, and there are a lot of teams that have won National Championships with a center. Not to have shooters is a strange development, but Crean tends to recruit what he was missing last season. In 2012-2013, Indiana shot very well, but needed length, so Crean brought in long guys. This year, no shooters so Johnson, Blackmon, and Hoetzel are shooters.

      1. Rex Dwyer

        If a person is alleged to have knowledge but cannot apply it then it is still only an allegation that he has knowledge. That is the problem with your argument about Crean’s knowledge. Sorry, but we will agree to disagree. Indiana being without a center is not the issue either, although it sure looked like he should have played Fisher and Vonleh at the same time. Then maybe Fisher would not have left. Even when Vonleh was out injured, Hanner Perea made a difference when he was in the game just because of his size and athleticism. He should have played at the same time as Vonleh also. You failed to respond to two short guards in at the same time all season long. That is just too short to win national titles. You are correct that it is difficult to recruit bigs at a mid major, but his style from Marquette is being carried over to IU. That is the problem.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          Talking to him about basketball leaves no doubt he knows the game, but knowledge and turning that knowledge into positive activity are different. If you listened to him talk about the game, you would understand that he knows what he’s talking about. The evidence is lacking on the floor on occasion, but the reason for losing is not Crean’s grasp of basketball principles.

          I assume the two guards you are talking about are Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell last season, and not Yogi and Stanford Robinson. Sometimes, the alternative being terrible makes doing the illogical preferable. Certainly against the 2-3 zone of Syracuse, two short guards did not bring a positive result. No one could argue that.

          Perea was relegated to spot play because his defensive acumen was lacking. Offensively, he improved as the season progressed. Defensively, he was not able to help and recover well or play in the middle of the 2-3 well enough to stay on the floor.

          What happened with Luke Fischer is anyone’s guess. IU can be a meat grinder for freshmen – it was for me. I agree that seeing Vonleh at the three or four would have been very interesting. I can only guess that Crean tried a variety of combinations during practice, and was encouraged by those we saw him use in game – disappointed in those that we did not see in games.

  6. john

    ok so the torches have been extinguished and the pitchforks are safely in the tool shed as common sense says one more year. what are the benchmarks that determine what happens to crean next year? ncaa bid=stays? nit bid=stays? .500 record=stays? iu wont be nearly the rebuild it was in 08 so surely coaches wont be as quick to turn their back on Indiana basketball. or will they? I only know fairly mainstream coaches. who are some under the radar guys that are breaking into the bigtime? whats up with grer marshall? he has great teams now but im thinking his full track record isn’t all that great. does brad stevens like the nba? people say shaka smart is an nba guy. doesn’t the nba forbid zone defense? isn’t zone defense his marquis ideology? seriously someone comment on suspending a kid for 3 games for losing focus and another kid 2 games for committing a crime going to jail and endangering peoples lives. please comment on this. what does this say about tom crean? wins and losses aside. recruiting strategy forgotten. in game coaching x’s and o’s forgiven. what does that say to anybody that’s paying attention?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      No benchmarks for Fred Glass. He will appraise the program based on the direction it shows. If the Hoosiers suck next year, and let’s define sucking as 17-15 with only the opportunity to play in the CBI, then Crean will need to have a very exciting bounty of players coming to IU in 2015 to survive. It’s an interesting class, and IU is in the game for a lot of the top players. If there is no obvious and bright light at the end of the tunnel, Fred will need to do some soul-searching to determine whether he wants to be seen by fans as the problem or the solution for IU basketball.

  7. REMant

    I went to one early season game against a reasonably good opponent, which the Hoosiers pulled out at the last possible moment, but I could easily see the difference between IU now and the many games I watched when they were coached by Bob Knight. I also thought Assembly Hall has become more of a circus than a gymnasium, and I am thinking, too, of suing the university for hearing loss.

  8. John Hoagland

    I think we can all agree we’ll pack Hallowell’s bag for him!!!! I want to give him 1 more year. I mean he did lose 4 1000 point scorers

    1. kentsterling Post author

      He’ll get another year, and maybe more depending upon the 2015 recruiting class. The question to me is where the head coach at Indiana is ranked in the Big Ten. If he is not in the top three at any point during any season during his stay, a change should be made.

  9. john

    Jeremy hollowell was benched for 3 games for losing “focus.”
    hanner pariah was benched for 2 games for driving drunk, being arrested, spending the night in jail. obviously the punishments do not fit the crime. are we to assume that pariah will be faced with more consequences at a time when its more convenient and not likely to influence basketball games. forget the record, the recruiting, the x’s and o’s. this is about character. and this is as hollow a move as crean has made in Bloomington. what does this say to the team? recruits’ parents? whats next? somebody gets popped for serious drugs? maybe he will just wait til the offseason to discipline that guy. this was a shady move. this move made me question the man not the coach? has he addressed the discrepancy between the punishments and the crimes?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Crean never told us specifically for what Hollowell well punished, so the discrepancy between the Perea and Hollowell suspensions is still not explained. That brings up an interesting weakness in the Crean image – he is not transparent – or even translucent. Fans and media are left to guess at intent or rationale, and over time, that will cause more problems than it will solve.

      A mitigating factor, if this makes sense, is that there was no pragmatic reason for Crean to be delicate with either Perea or Hollowell.

  10. john

    no reason to be delicate with hollowell. at the time of his benching it was preseason and we were playing 6th graders. vonleh was healthy and fischer was starting to heal and get playing time.

    pariahs suspension came in the midst of arguably the most critical time of the season as jockeying for tournament bids reached a fever pitch and creans seat was becoming its warmest. additionally fischer had left at this point and vonleh was hurt. if tom crean were to be transparent about this and flat out tell the truth he would become college basketball’s coaching pariah. his predecessors program was built upon and ultimately crumbled beneath such decision making. I am all about winning and I love iu basketball but tom crean failed as a coach as a leader as a university representative and ultimately as a person. it is very very likely that hollowells loss of focus did not endanger peoples lives. im pretty damn sure of it. timing and and a depleted bench is the discrepancy. and that’s sad. that’s pitino. that’s calipari. that’s not indiana

  11. Paul Balst

    My 11 year old son today asked how good Matt Roth would have looked in an IU uniform this year as a 5th year senior as we struggled to score.

    Would have been great to have some leadership as we continue the Crean recruiting whack a mole strategy.

    I’d submit the catapulting of Roth may directly lead to Crean firing. Roth may have won 1-2 Big Ten games therefore making the 64 or minimally the NIT. An irony Philboyd Studge would enjoy.

    An interview with Roth would be very, very interesting.

    An interview with Maurice Creek could be very, very interesting. “Who’s the better coach, Mo, Tom Crean or ……(at GW)?” Who runs a better practice? Better game strategist?”

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Roth was told not to play in 2012-2013. He was a great shooter, but not a fleet-footed defender. Without Roth, they were the top team in the country and won a Big Ten championship.

      This year, they definitely could have used him, although Indiana did have a shooter or two this year – just not one with the attributes Crean sees valuable on defense.

      Shooters are coming next year with Blackmon, Johnson, and Hoetzel, or at least that’s the story. I can’t speak for Hoetzel and Johnson, but Blackmon can flat shoot.

  12. Robert McDole

    I don’t agree with the article above. Although I believe Crean is a good person he doesn’t know how to execute. Just because you are an encyclopedia of the game does not make you a good coach. Plain and simple Bobby Knight knew how to get his kids to execute and knew exactly what to do in game time situations. I do not believe Tom Crean knows what to do period. Great coaches know how to make adjustments. The fact is he has recruited these kids if he doesn’t win it is his fault. We should have been back in the tournament 4 years ago and competing for a national championship. Zeller’s last year the team totally underachieved.


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