by Kent Sterling
2014 has not been a good year for Indiana University head basketball coach Tom Crean – yet.
Four players arrested/cited, two suspended because of multiple dirty drug tests, one player hospitalization because of an incident that fractured Devin Davis’s skull, a 17-15 record that result in a postseason tournament shutout, and most recently an inexplicable home loss to Eastern Washington.
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To say that fans, boosters, alums, and those in charge of his employment are looking very closely at the basketball program and Crean’s leadership is a reasonable assumption.
Tonight, Indiana hosts an opponent worthy of being on its schedule for the first time this season. That SMU wasn’t at full strength a couple of weeks ago was not Crean’s fault, but it was not the same quality win as would have been the case if Larry Brown’s team had all it’s weapons.
This Pitt team isn’t great by any stretch, but it it the first Indiana opponents with the components necessary to be a decent test for the Hoosiers. Losses to San Diego State and especially Hawaii diminish its own tournament resume’, but they are solid enough to prove whether the Hoosiers’ loss to Eastern Washington was a departure from the norm or a portend of things to come.
Pitt isn’t the only real team on Indiana’s non-conference schedule. Louisville looms a week from today, and Butler and Georgetown are also scheduled before the Big ten season tips off in a month.
Confidence in Crean’s leadership has been shaken and needs to be re-established with a series of wins leading to a bid in the NCAA Tournament in order for the din calling for Crean’s replacement to be quieted.
That’s the part of coaching that sucks. Two years ago, Indiana was THE story of the college basketball season. Number one with a bullet, and two guys who would become top four NBA draft picks led the Hoosiers to a regular season Big Ten Championship, and the Hoosiers were back. And then last year, they weren’t.
Excluded from the NCAA and NIT in 2013-2014, the doubters resurfaced and off-court mayhem has led fans to near revolt. Crean needs to Hoosiers to win – beginning tonight. Unlike the game against Louisville, tonight is a game Indiana can reasonably expect to win, especially at Assembly Hall.
While Pitt’s RPI ranking of 99 is not daunting, especially after only five games, Indiana’s is 209. That is barely worthy of a major conference opponent’s attention, but Indiana has talent and at some point it’s going to reveal itself, right?
Beat Pitt, Butler, and Georgetown, and the Hoosier Express will suddenly be back on track with Crean re-establishing himself as the long-term solution to the problem of Indiana Basketball’s national irrelevance. Losing those games would have the opposite effect.
These are unique days in Bloomington. The last three Indiana coaches to lose their jobs (Bob Knight, Mike Davis, and Kelvin Sampson) were canned for a variety of reasons, but none because of undistinguished on-court results. Knight was spiked as the result of a misguided attempt to control him with a zero-tolerance policy. Sampson was eviscerated as a rule-bending miscreant. Davis was on borrowed time from day one as an interim coach unprepared for the primary responsibilities of the gig.
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Crean is in a different place. He has the tools needed to build a championship program, but has been unable to show consistent progress, and now fans see the erosion of quality in Bloomington as a Crean authored issue.
Last season’s 17-15 may have been an aberration. The loss to Eastern Washington may have been an aberration. But at some point, if wins don’t come against quality opponents, they will be seen as evidence of entrenched mediocrity.
With all 13 scholarship players scheduled to return next year – in addition to two okay recruits signed to report to Bloomington next year (don’t ask me how that math works) – improvement will have to come from within.
That makes tonight’s game all the more important. As with all coaches, the only thing that can save Crean now is winning.
redemption? its more of a rebound. no pun intended. if you drop a basketball send it crashing into the earth it bounces back up a little bit before ultimately just lying there and maybe in its final stages, rolls around fruitlessly before coming to a dead stop. crean has great guard play this year. and I do mean great. he again has two mcd’s all americans on this team. he had two last year and missed the tournament. I fully expect crean to make the tournament this year. I was astonished at how well iu played against pitt. but history repeats and the ball bounces a little lower every time. lets not forget the time not so long ago when crean had two ALL AMERICANS and only reached the sweet sixteen and was embarrassed by a two three zone. who am I kidding iu was run out of the gym. depending on who leaves this year and we know at least two have to leave because crean inked two commits even though there are no scholarships to give, Indiana may find itself in rough shape next year. two sweet sixteens then a missed tournament then one tournament win followed by a missed tournament. lets not be enamored by the sudden uptick in quality bball driven by great guard play. lets instead be conservatively optimistic about the season ahead. while this team is playing well who knows what its doing off the court. there has been systemic misbehavior and largely mild criminal behavior in the backdrop of this team for at least a year. tom benched a couple kids for several games last year “attitude problems.” then he benched a guy two games for owi. the decisions crean makes regarding team ethics has a lot mor to do with who did it and who is next on the schedule as opposed to the offense. crean has sacrificed the morals of Indiana university and is still coming up average. I don’t trust tom crean. he wants to win so badly that he “cheats” and still comes up average AND he isn’t good at cheating and he gets caught. run on run on little sentence. fred glass’ legacy may well be for the misadventure of tom creans contract. I don’t mind waiting crean out for a couple of years if it ends with brad stevens on the iu sideline. it likely wont but hey I can dream. I do worry that when this is all said and done crean will leave Indiana with sanctions. we know about what these players do that involves arrests and in the midst of arrests and devin davis unfortunate incident crean elected to release news about two guys failing drug tests. had there not been arrests and that accident I wonder if crean would have went public with the drug tests. I gotta wonder if tom was throwing those kids under the bus to say: “hey ncaa look at me. im disciplining players.” how many kids out there fail drug tests? I don’t know. I certainly don’t hear much about it. lets not think that everything is ok again just by seeing some great guard play on the surface. underneath ive got a bad feeling something is still festering, just waiting to rear its beaked head……..CAH!
The fun of this season will be to see exactly where the Indiana program is. Every program has a year that sucks once in a while. Was 2013-2014 IU’s year to bite it, and then bounce back this season? Or was it a matter of regressing to the mean? The vibe for the IU program has eroded among the HS players that are – or should be – recruiting targets. Not sure the path to improvement in 2015-2016 runs through two kids from Missouri.