Indiana Basketball – Given loss to Michigan State, get used to excellence and inferiority in equal measure

by Kent Sterling

Indiana coach Tom Crean gets in the face of Hanner Mosquera-Perea during last night's disappointing loss at Michigan State.

Indiana coach Tom Crean gets in the face of Hanner Mosquera-Perea during last night’s disappointing loss at Michigan State.

How soon hopeful Indiana fans forgot the manic depressive stylings of last year’s up and down squad as they excitedly awaited last night’s game against Michigan State in East Lansing.

Last season, tears filled Kirkwood Avenue after the Hoosiers opened the Big Ten season 0-2 with losses to Illinois and Michigan State.  Then, joyful celebrations erupted on Fee Lane as Indiana beat #3 Wisconsin at Assembly Hall.

The tide had turned, or had it?  Not so much as Indiana lost to unheralded Northwestern the following Saturday.  All was lost, or was it?  Not so much – again – as the Hoosiers hammered #10 Michigan on February 2nd.

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Three straight losses to Minnesota, Penn State, and Purdue came next, and Indiana basketball fans finally threw up their hands and decided this team caused them too much emotional upheaval to either cheer or boo.

It’s a shame because the Hoosiers then beat consecutive ranked opponents #20 Iowa and #22 Ohio State before dropping their last three against Nebraska, Michigan, and Illinois.

Less than a half mile due south of Assembly Hall sits IU’s Psychology Building, a place where I learned how to predict the behavior of mice.  The professors and research specialists who office there could have walked a couple hundred yards north and authored a study on inconsistency based upon the 2013-2014 Hoosiers.

It looks like that work could continue this season as figuring out which Indiana team will show up on a nightly basis is again proving a vexing proposition.

Fortunately for everyone associated with Indiana Basketball, inconsistency seems to be a core competency throughout the Big Ten.  The Michigan State team that dominated and humbled the Hoosiers last night has five losses, including one at home against the barnstorming Texas Southern Tigers of former IU coach Mike Davis.

Delivering upon expectations is job one for a basketball coach and team, and Indiana has been resolute and maddening in both exceeding and failing to get that done.

That’s not just from a result perspective but in effort and execution too.  Last night’s game was an exercise in futility where Indiana was out-everythinged.  Michigan State’s effort was tremendous, and Indiana’s feet on defense could not have been slower.

The result was brutal to watch.  I’m not sure how many dunks Michigan State had, but the Spartans only hit 28 shots on the night – five of which were three-pointers – so it couldn’t have been more than 23.

Because of Indiana’s win at Nebraska to open the Big Ten season, fans saw the Michigan State game as a chance to get a jump on the conference race with two wins at home.  With last night’s 70-50 drubbing (and it wasn’t that close) fresh in the minds of fans, the Ohio State game Saturday at Noon will be seen as a potential for embarrassment, but it’s as likely as not the Hoosiers will rebound to play very well against the #22 Buckeyes.

There is talent and intellect in Bloomington – enough to win – and that is the difficult part of the equation to swallow for fans.  Sometimes good, sometimes terrible, Indiana’s wobbly play leaves fans without a plausible explanation or reasonable expectation for either.

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For those who are sure the end for the Hoosiers is nigh, remember that Hanner Mosquera-Perea is capable of excellence and James Blackmon is going to find his range eventually.  For those who expect Indiana to get to the Sweet Sixteen, remember they don’t have a senior, size, or discernible collective will.

At 11-4, Indiana could mature and become a first division Big Ten team, or collapse and dive to the bottom of the standings.  The most likely scenario as the 2015 Big Ten season unfolds is for Indiana to win some games it shouldn’t, lose some it should win, and wind up in the middle somewhere.

Is that enough for fans, and will whatever happens this season give fans reason for hope in 2015-2016?  While developing and fulfilling expectations is job one for a coach, instilling hope – especially for a supposedly elite program like Indiana – is job 1-A.

Without hope, ticket sales falter, donations dwindle, and indifference sets in.  It’s not dislike that inspires change in leadership; it’s malaise in a fan base.

In Bloomington, enthusiasm needs to be reinstilled – and fast.

Is that blue sky on the horizon or dark storm clouds?  Whatever your guess, it’s likely wrong.

9 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – Given loss to Michigan State, get used to excellence and inferiority in equal measure

  1. S Brown

    IU lost by 20 last night….or let me re-state….Hanner and Troy Williams lost by 20 points last night. Crean actually won by ten.
    The normally calm, pussycat Crean turned into a raving wildcat after both Hanner “Huffin Puff” Perrea and Troy “Turnover” Williams loafed getting back on transition defense. “Loafed” is a mild and kind word for what happened. The play of these two guys bordered on indifference. I applaud the fact that Crean sat these two players on the bench. They deserved it, and there is not any other top tier coach in America that would have done anything different or more effective. Troy, your coronation as the next Oladipo has been postponed due to poor effort.

    It will be extremely interesting to see the starting line up for Saturday’s game with Ohio State. Indiana’s basketball season has turned into the best soap opera that you could ever as for, better than “Days of Our Lives”. Who could ask for any more drama: Car Accidents, Head injuries, Failed Drug Tests, Arrests for Underage Drinking, and Identification Fraud. What’s next?

    It is going to be interesting to see what the starting line up looks like against Ohio State

    1. kentsterling Post author

      You bring up an interesting question – is Tom Crean responsible for the level of effort for his players? He shouldn’t be absolved of responsibility fora loss because his players don’t bring max effort, but he can’t infuse them with passion for each and every possession.

  2. gregg shelton

    Coach should pull a Bob Knight and bench all his starters as coach K did against so many years ago against Illinois in a national TV game. They got the message!!

  3. OldIUGymnast

    Sitting here on the West Coast and reading through the message boards is not a good way to maintain one’s mental health. The fan base is so – insane? – sometimes. Coach definitely has a responsibility to prepare and get his team ready – but as it turns out, a coach can’t make a pass, call a foul, run down the floor, get back on D or much else than call a play during the flow of the game. Very clearly, Coach Crean was not getting what he asked for from his team. Absent a capable replacement, how is he supposed to get HMP or Troy Williams to be focused and motivated? I coach gymnastics for years – and it is a sport where you have kids suddenly develop a fear of dying (which isn’t really unreasonable) right in the middle of a meet. While I knew my kids well, and did my best to help them through those mental issues (I too took a few classes in that same Psych building), how do you get a kid who thinks he might die if he tries what ever skill he had developed a fear of to do it? Its impossible. Often when you go from familiar to new, you lose all your visual clues and even the most haptic (I can feel it!) athlete can get freaked out if what he sees suddenly changes. I am sure this happens to basketball players (although they probably don’t think they are going to die if they do their high bar dismount) as the visual – leading sometimes to haptic feedback – they receive is suddenly different. That lights out shooter hits the backboard and those long rebounds become short rebounds favoring the bigger team. This game would have been much different if the 8 or so open threes taken by IU in the first half had gone 4 for 8 rather than 0 for 8. It definitely shook HMP’s confidence to get two whistles in the first 1.5 minutes. Troy got hammered going to the hole with no whistle. Our freshman shooters seemed shaken when they couldn’t find their range. I think the first 4 minutes of the game flustered them so much – counted on shots missed, fouls not called, screens not set, passes not made – that they never recovered mentally and gave up. That is sad – but I cannot see how a coach can counteract something like this.

    I once took 7 boys to national championships held in a huge arena. Tons of pressure, really young guys (11-13), unfamiliar environment – we hit 6 of 42 routines that day. I was furious. Didn’t sleep for days. Reamed the best kid I ever coached for days after. Not my finest hour at all. But as it turns out – none of my histrionics helped. A great kid with potential quit my team. I think the best course of action for the team and more importantly – for the fans that continue to pine for Brad Stevens to come magically save the day, or those that think Stan Robinson (who was a bright spot on D in this game) should be dismissed, or think Bob Knight “message sending” is the way to go – is to forget this game happened, focus on all of the incredible positives this team brings, and remember that we just had two good runs, lost a lot of players to graduation/NBA/transfer, and just recognize that this team can grow into great and deserves the opportunity to do so without constant sniping from friendly fire.

    Not in a million years would I – or most of the elite athletes I know – subject myself as a coach or a athlete to what these guys put up with from grown men all over Indiana (and the country) subject these players and coaches to. Be mad we lost. Don’t make it personal. Expect better tomorrow. Expect that despite your rage, nobody gets to be an elite coach or elite athlete without hating losing WAY, WAY, WAY more than you.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      My goodness. That is a sane, reasonable, and mature perspective. I love that you chose to share it here.

      The question with Tom Crean is two-fold. First, is he the right leader to recruit to and instill a culture that leads to success (on and off the court). More important is whether the lack of basketball success combined with players’ behavioral issues that grew to epidemic proportions over the past year negatively impact donations to the point where a change becomes an economic necessity.

      I’ve seen first hand the venom spewed toward players by fans as they live their lives around Bloomington, and it is completely off-the-charts ridiculous. Forgetting about the game – win or lose – is the reasonable response

      The onset of the fear of death for gymnasts is fascinating. Never heard that.

      Your experience with that young gymnast made you a better leader, and now you shared that hard-earned perspective with us. Hopefully, all who read it learn from it.

    2. Pauly Balst

      Wow OldIUgymnast, talk about classing up the joint. I consider myself reasonably bright and well read, and for the first time I had to look up a word (‘haptic”) used in the comments.

      You were likely ahead of Positive Coaching Alliance, who advocates exactly what you are saying. Flush the poor play from memory, focus on repeating past success. You should read The Talent Code by Dan Coyle, you’d see yourself and others in there.

      I had a chance to meet Bart Connor, a local kid, and his father recently. Great guy.

      1. kentsterling Post author

        I had to look up “haptic” too, even though he provided a parenthetical definition. Thought it might have been a misspelling of another word I had never heard of.

        Fantastic comment. Not sure that what I write has much value, but if the comments stay at this level, I’ll become a reader of this site myself.

  4. j

    I concur. this is makes sense. we should not be attacking these kids…unless they aren’t trying. or drinking and driving. or doing drugs. wait a minute, here I go again. kids make mistakes. it is the responsibility of the coach to correct and Discipline these kids to ensure as much as can reasonably be expected that they don’t make bad decisions and do make good ones. iu football kicking donkey on the recruiting trail hmp is very likely not capable of excellence. a broken clock is right twice a day. tom crean has brought in a great deal of talent. and is turning it into mediocre results. he just isn’t that good. he has this contract that will cost a fortune to fire him. regardless of that contract I don’t believe Indiana university basketball, if it wants to remain a household name, cannot afford to keep him. each year of mediocrity that passes enshrines iu as a has been. as such, the iu job becomes less desirable and will draw lesser qualified and capable coaches. crean has brought in mcds all ams the last three years. next year he has a 3 star and 4 star coming. the talent is seeing what is happening and the talent is turning away from crean. lets not forget the mass exodus of walkons and assorted players the last couple of years. crean is imploding. I propose a radical plan. fire tom crean now. right now. mid season. start courting coaches now. give them time to think about Indiana and the iu paycheck. when a guy has a few days or so to make a decision to leave his job and move his family he is skittish. its alot to process in a short time. too much even. and so that guy does what most people would do. he stays where he is. its better for his family. so lets cut our losses. lets start shopping now. lets go after the very best and show them this job and the town of Bloomington and give them time to think and plan. when they have time to do that this job starts to make sense. fire tom crean now. right this ship before he sinks it.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      I love your passion, but firing Crean now would be a mistake for a variety of reasons. First, it would likely short-circuit the chances that this team has to succeed, and that isn’t fair to the players. Second, if the team suddenly started winning, whomever the interim guy is would be impossible to displace. Wait until the end of the season to evaluate. That’s what Fred Glass will do regardless of what happens during the next 8-10 weeks.


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