Indiana Basketball – the Long Winter for Tom Crean Continues, but the Cold Doesn’t Seem to Bother Him on Windy City Radio

by Kent Sterling

If Tom Crean has a reason not to smile, he sounded as though he was completely unaware of it today on The Game's Kap & Haugh show.

If Tom Crean has a reason not to smile, he sounded as though he was completely unaware of it today on The Game’s Kap & Haugh show.

There are people who wear shorts in the dead of winter, and look like they are impervious to the cold.  And there are people who are faced with incredible adversity who look happier than many who don’t have any worry in their lives.

I doubt Indiana Basketball coach Tom Crean left much exposed skin during this frigid winter that continues into late March, but the guy sure knows how to smile through what others would view as bleak times.

Five players left the program yesterday, and Crean spoke today of the opportunity that now exists to fill those roster spots on The Game in Chicago (click to listen).  If Crean believes his status as coach is in any doubt because of the defections, he didn’t betray it in his optimistic series of messages, and why would he?

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Noah Vonleh is going to be drafted in the lottery portion of the NBA Draft, as he has planned since high school.  Soon-to-be graduate Austin Etherington is likely off to Indiana State to play alongside his brother.  Jeremy Hollowell is going somewhere else because he is not a good fit in Bloomington.  Walk-ons (a term I use with great respect) Jonny Marlin and Joe Fagan are also leaving the program.

The aggregate of the statistical impact of the four players not destined to play in the NBA is not great.  Ask yourself what would have been different this season without Etherington and Hollowell.  Would Indiana have been worse than 7-11 in the Big Ten without them?  Whatever the answer, it really doesn’t matter as IU failed to qualify for a legitimate postseason tournament with the group now being lamented as fractured.

Crean is pushing in his chips on Morgan Park Illinois, native Josh Cunningham, graduate transfer Anthony Lee, and Bloomfield Hills HS power forward Yante Maten.  Lee is 6’9″, 230 lbs, and averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 points for a bad Temple team.  Cunningham is the more sought after player with offers from plenty of teams in the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten.  Crean’s interest in Cunningham is underscored by his appearance today on Chicago radio.

Coaches have two statuses of importance – employed and unemployed – and the best way to migrate from the first status to the second is to listen to doomsday prophets or staunch supporters.  Recruiting out of fear is almost certain to result in being fired, and the arrogance caused by satisfaction is another ticket out.

What Crean is focusing on is filling roles, not holes.  When recruiting becomes a high stakes game of hope that the new blood can jump start a moribund program, the result is very similar to gamblers who throw all their remaining chips on the high odds novelty bets of the craps table.  Sure, there is a chance of cashing in, but the overwhelming odds are that the questionable character kids with mad athletic skills and or the high-character kids with middling athletic gifts will ruin the team.

If the SS Hoosier is taking on water, the captain of the ship certainly appears calm and confident on the surface.  Whether that confidence is well-placed or a facade will be seen soon enough.  The proof is always on the floor, and if Indiana continues to appear disconnected next season – or worse – suffers another defection from the core group of talented youth, even a man as outwardly positive as Crean will be forced to privately confront his professional mortality.

It’s possible that Indiana will rebound next year with the core of Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, Max Hoetzel, and the soon-to-be committed replacements.  Those names on a roster would give reason for hope, but they will need to find a way to play basketball like they don’t detest each other – a trait sadly missing from this year’s team.

Or rumors of Tom Crean’s precarious perch in Assembly Hall will be much tougher to dismiss.

13 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – the Long Winter for Tom Crean Continues, but the Cold Doesn’t Seem to Bother Him on Windy City Radio

  1. Matterhorn

    The “music man” is at it again placing all our hopes on the next great thing. Don’t count on it.

  2. Dave M

    I thought that Coach Crean did a very decent job of representing a positive outlook moving forward. I hope that CTC is filling holes in the team not just casting his net. IU really needs a few ball handlers, some decent bigs, and a half-court offense that doesn’t rely on the dribble-drive.

    While the outcome of the games was painful at times I can understand the losses from a couple of levels. Hulls being hurt really did send us packing a year ago. And even without that IU had warts. Turnovers and a stagnant offense, at times, drive me nuts. The dribble-drive is pathetic if our guy isn’t better than the defense.

    So CTC says he is focused on lowering turnovers. He is dealing with the passing. And he just dealt with some of the team chemistry issues. I’m not satisfied with the product on the floor. But, obviously, CTC isn’t either.

    Good luck to CTC. He will need it.

    1. Phil Ross

      I agree with the dribble drive, I would be interested in seeing what percentage of the turnovers this year came from that area.
      It painfully reminder me of the Verdell Jones era. The last year Verdell was here he did better with that and I felt was more productive. If the drive isn’t there its simple “don’t drive”. The other area that I didn’t understand was CTC subsituting. I felt that he substituting at times was questionable and why so many. It seemed there was never any rhythm to the offense. I didn’t know that there were chemistry problems.

      1. kentsterling Post author

        The chemistry problems became obvious to me during the Big Ten Tournament as I was able to watch every team up close. The passion for the game and love for one another was obvious with several teams, and totally absent from the Hoosiers.

        The substitutions were strange, but I believe motivated by trying to figure out which combination might work best, when the answer most games was none.

  3. steve

    It is not hard to act positive with the money he is making. I would sound happy too. Here we go again though. We are going to be super young again and I can just hear the young excuse coming out again. I really thought by year 7 of this we would be making deep march runs.Instead it appears we may be lucky to just make the NIT next year. Sad.

  4. The wheels are fallin' off

    It is a bad, bad sign when a team is being built by way of 5th year seniors and transfers. That is the hallmark of an unstable program. Stable programs are built through balanced, traditional recruiting.

    1. DHazel

      IU will be best served by dumping Crean, he reminds me of a shady used car salesman. IU had no offense this year and that’s with a NBA lottery pick at center and they could never get him the ball. Crean has incorporated nothing offensively except playground ball. Truly awful. Cut the losses and get a basketball coach not a shady used car salesman!

  5. Larry

    I’d be a helluva lot more impressed if he answered questions from media that doesn’t have a passing/cursory knowledge of what has been occurring in Bloomington this past season. I lived in Chicago and read Haugh on the Trib., but let’s not act like he’s going to delve into a critical back and forth with TC.

    As far as the transfers are concerned…sure no transfer in and of itself is worrisome. Taken all together the mass exodus of both scholarship and walk-ons is troubling IMO.

    I’m curious…as someone who covers and presumably is a fan of IU hoops what are your expectations for success…on court only please? Say over a 10 year time period.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Given where the program is and where it has been over the past 10 years, my expectations are that Indiana exists in the middle of the Big Ten in the same way Notre Dame played toward the middle of the Big East. Not sure how IU will improve next year. The problem isn’t that Indiana is lacking talent, it’s that different factions of players seem to intensely dislike each other. You can fix a talent deficit, but building a team with a common purpose from such disparate and disharmonious parts is tough.

    1. John

      Wow, I wasn’t at all pleased with the play of this years team, but don’t understand why we’re not more optimistic about next season. Don’t know how much y’all have seen of James Blackmon Jr and Robert Johnson, but BOTH are better than any guard IU has, and when you throw in Yogi and Stan, IU will have a VERY GOOD back court. IU did NOT have a very good backcourt this year….no shooting….that will change. Troy Williams, Hanner Perea and Devin Davis ALSO have the potential to be VERY GOOD forwards, then add Max Hoetsel…knock down shooter…yes, the Hoosiers need a big man, but he won’t need to be great…just absorb fouls. No wonder Crean’s not freakin…

      1. kentsterling Post author

        If everything goes perfectly, your assessment will be right on the money. Indiana will have an excellent but young backcourt. If Perea and Davis are the only size on the front court, they will need to improve significantly to help IU compete.


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