Indiana Basketball – Hoosiers lose at Northwestern not because of shooting, but because they just don’t defend

by Kent Sterling

Hands down during a defensive closeout allowed Northwestern's Tre Demps to make the three-point shot that resulted.

Hands down during a defensive closeout allowed Northwestern’s Tre Demps to make the three-point shot that resulted.

There are a million sayings about the importance of defense in basketball.  One of the most concise and on-point is “Defense travels.”

Better than any other, that axiom explains why Indiana was unable to beat Northwestern with so much on the line last night in Evanston.

Tom Crean discussed ad nauseum during the postgame press conference how Indiana’s inability to knock down shots cost them the game, but after one half of basketball where Indiana shot lights out (9-of-14 from beyond the arc), the game was tied at 40.

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Another great saying among coaches is “First, you need to out-coach the fans.”  In “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, Fletcher tells Senator Lane, “Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”

When Crean tries to spin the reason Indiana loses toward shooting woes, he underestimates Indiana fans’ ability to watch basketball with a critical eye.

Indiana loses, and has lost, because of defensive lapses that are elementary.  Poor closeouts with hands down, inattention to the ball, and slow feet have made it easy for opposing coaches to attack the Hoosiers.

And so fans scratch their heads wondering whether Crean knows a hell of a lot about the game he is paid so handsomely to teach youngsters to play at a high level.  Crean knows plenty about basketball, but continues to spout silliness hoping that fans don’t recognize it for the pap that it is.

As long as the Hoosiers beat either Iowa or Michigan State next week at Assembly Hall, their spot in the NCAA Tournament will be secure, and that was the goal at the beginning the season.  Once into the tournament, anything can happen.

But what needs to happen beginning right now is for Crean to start leveling with fans who understand basketball at a higher level than most.  Defense is causing the Hoosiers trouble, not shooting.  Say that, and there will be a feeling of hope because then fans (and media) will have a sense that at least the diagnosis of the issue causing losses is correct.

All coaches love for their teams to throw the ball in the bucket at a high rate, but they know that offense is only half the game.  Defensive fundamentals must be displayed consistently or any Division 1 opponent is going knock down shots.  Since January 22nd, the Hoosiers have allowed their opponents to shoot 50.9%, 62.3%, 58.7%, 44.4%, 60.4%, 50%, 49%, 49.1%, 46.2%, 37%, and 51%.  The only under 40% result was an aberration driven by the dumpster fire that is Rutgers Basketball.

Of the top 49 teams in NCAA D-1 as measured by RPI, Indiana has the lowest Defensive Quotient (-3.3).  It ranks 261st of of 351 overall.  Because Indiana scores a lot of points, it’s defensive quotient would be lower than most, but it’s still evidence of problems in Bloomington in the area of forcing an opponent into uncomfortable looks at the basket.

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More to the point is the non-arcane statistic of losing six of its last 10 games, alternating losses and wins since the beatdown at Mackey on January 28th.

Indiana’s spot in the NCAA Tournament is still secure, but until Crean starts talking to fans through the media with a little respect for their basketball knowledge, there will be questions about the direction of the program, and whether Crean is the right guy to lead it.

16 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – Hoosiers lose at Northwestern not because of shooting, but because they just don’t defend

  1. Warren in TN.

    Have to agree, Kent. I think Crean’s been forced into the emphasis on offense because of the personnel issues more than any intentional dereliction of attention to defense, but it makes one wonder where his mind is really at when he says some of the things he does. It also goes towards the inexplicable things he does in games as well. At this point, I don’t really know what to say.

    Sure, once in the postseason, anything can happen, but for this edition of the Hoosiers, the only thing I think that is most likely to happen is a quick exit, and I do not mean any disrespect by saying that. It’s just my own (bad) feeling about what is going to happen when one takes a team as deficient on the defensive end as IU, with a lack of interior size, and as we all know, a bad shooting night can doom even the best of teams in a one and done tournament.

    I’ve been watching Crean at IU for a long time, and have been one to urge continuing to give him his shot. However, I think that, at long last, his coaching tenure has come to an end – regardless of the buyout. It seems apparent to me that IU is going nowhere with him at the helm.

    Nevertheless, good luck the rest of the regular season and in making the NCAAT. Maybe I’m wrong and the Hoosiers can make some noise, one never knows.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      I tend to believe we do know where this team is headed, but until the end of the road for 2015, it’s good and proper to allow the kids to try to solve this and roll toward a successful postseason. Tomorrow’s game is a big one.

  2. Matterhorn

    Great post Kent. If Crean were to just come out and say that Indiana absolutely sucks on defense and that it’s embarrassing and that he as a coach is embarrassed how that would make a difference to the fans. Simply mind boggling to think a lack of shooting is the reason a game was lost. Time for Freddie the Clown to drive up in his fire truck blow his big horn pick up the “court” jester and get the hell out of BTown.

  3. Philboyd Studge


    Yes, Indiana’s defense is ludicrous. When you make 12 three pointers and still lose by seven to a team that was 4-10 in the conference at tip-off, you have an historically bad defense.

    The troubling thing for anyone who would like to see Indiana basketball return to true relevance for the first time since the Berlin Wall was intact (not me, of course), is the subtle suggestion that as long as the Hoosiers limp into the NCAA tournament all will be well — or, as you put it “anything can happen” (as if ‘anything’ is possible for a team that will have perhaps the worse defense statistically for an at-large team in modern NCAA history.)

    Here is a question for you: How many games over .500 is Tom Crean for a 16-year career in seasons he didn’t have a guy named Zeller or Wade on the court? Ans: His average record over that time without Wade or Zeller is 15-14.

    Here is another question: If Indiana managed to go 12-6 in the Big 10 each of the next four seasons (a level attained only once in his first seven years) what would Crean’s overall Big 10 record be entering his TWELFTH SEASON as Indiana’s head coach? Depending on the rest of this year, it’d be almost exactly .500.

    A lot of Crean’s career statistics converge at about .500. When the sample size dates back to the Clinton administration, I think the numbers start to be persuasive.

    I know it is hard for you to admit you were wrong about Crean. I remember, and believe me it brings a chuckle, when you were predicting he’d have a better career at IU than Calipari had at Kentucky. But if you want to be a voice with standing among Indiana fans, YOU need to take a stand.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Waiting until the full raft of evidence is in for this season. After that, we’ll have a very solid picture of where Indiana’s program is – and more importantly where it is headed.

      1. DownTheStretch


        I would argue that the full raft of evidence has already hit the beach. As a horseplayer, the best measure to predict what will happen in a future race is to look at past performances. Here are the last twelve national champions final kenpom defensive rankings (2014-2003): 10,3,8,13,8,21,1,17,6,12,5,14. That is an average defensive rating of 9.8. Here are Tom Crean’s final defensive rankings for the same period (2014-2003; I even threw out his first two years at IU due to obvious extenuating circumstances – let’s call it a muddy track!): 47,28,84,143,27,36,67,142,189,119 – Average rating of 88. He is looking at setting a personal worst this year of 230! The evidence is quite clear: Crean is not a good enough defensive coach to lead a team to a championship.

        I can only speak for myself as a season-ticket holder and IU lifer, the “expectation” is to compete for a championship every year. I need to understand what we are waiting for.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          I love comments that bring compelling evidence to bear. Crean would argue that the uptempo offense Indiana employs this year is the factor that brings that ranking so low. The truth is that the defense is just not very good. Opposing coaches know it, and astute Indiana fans like yourself know it.

          While it seems nutty to hold out hope that it improves tomorrow night, I will continue to cling to it – like Leonardo DiCaprio holding onto the Kate Winslet’s hand in the North Atlantic during the climax of Titanic.

  4. Steve Brown

    Ken Sterling, I have to ask what you or any other follower of IU basketball what you really expected this year. Honestly, I was only expecting them to win 4 or 5 Big Ten games this year. You talk about defense. Yes, there are a lot of defensive lapses, but I would expect that with a group of young players.

    Ken, tell me how you expect to defend a 7-2 center with a guard who is lucky to be 6-4? It doesn’t work. I have to commend those IU players who have been “under the gun” defending opponents who are physically superior. Those same IU players are “under the gun” to produce offensively as well. You can’t burn the candle at both ends.

    Physically, IU cannot compete at the level it needs to in order to consistently win at the upper echelon of the Big Ten.

    I really congratulate the IU players. They have shown that they are tough competitors even though they lack size and bulk.
    You can’t teach a 6-4 guard to defend a 7-2 center. You may get some random wins, but the odds are solidly against you. The last coach that I saw win with a really small team was John Wooden (1965 UCLA Bruins). I don’t think Tom is in John Wooden’s class.

    1. j

      all good points. here are mine:
      who built this team of garden gnomes?
      tom crean

      he signed two small forwards for next year.

      crean has size on the bench. he does not play

      the team defense is lousy. the players don’t
      communicate. no one is arguing whether these
      kids play hard. its that the defense is AWFUL.

      Tom crean built this team. he puts those short guards out there to guard 7 footers game in and game out. he has a 6’9″ power forward and a 7 foot center on the bench. whether they don’t play because tom crean wants the guards on the floor or because they cant, either way its tom crean that decides who is in the game and tom crean that decides who is on the team. size has been a problem all season. so crean went out and signed two 6’7″ guys. since there are no scholarships available crean may be planning on yanking the scholarships of the two big guys that never play. they are not injured. anyway you look at it this is tom creans doing. as for expecting 4 or 5 big ten wins………..this team has 2 mcdonalds all americans at guard. if you expect tom crean to win 4 or 5 conference games with two mcdonalds all Americans in the backcourt….well I think you’ve just summed up what you really think tom crean is capable of.

      1. j

        and I would also like to address the comment about not burning a candle at both ends. are you implying that if a kid plays offense he cannot be expected to play defense? well I guess your theory works if they are playing H-O-R-S-E. which ironically enough is what they are doing.

        furthermore, sieve braun, I really think you missed the point of this article. you must be one of the guys that tom crean doesn’t have to level with.

        1. Steve Brown

          I guess that I have to make this really simple for you. If you take a great offensive player, like Blackmon, and you make him bust his @ss on defense time and time again, he is going to be less effective offensively. Hartmann is another example. The last two games, Hartmann has busted his @ss defending 7 foot centers. As a result, he has not been able to contribute as much offensively. That’s my point.

          You guys expect too much from these players. They are not miracle workers. IU does not have the personnel. Now, you can blame Crean for that, you can blame the NBA, or whatever. If they get in the NCAA tournament, I consider it a win, a lucky win at that. I am satisfied with what they have achieved, based on what they had to work with this year. There is not any other coach in America that could have taken this team and achieved a better result. Face the facts.

          1. matterhorn

            “there is not another coach in America that could have achieved better results.” How do you know that? No seriously how could you ever make that statement. Here are the facts Stevo-there are no seniors on the team for whatever reason, has there ever been a senior night where nobody speaks, the defense is ranked 240-260 worst in nation fact, Indiana has immediate playing time for a 4 or 5 star center/forward next year but again could not land one-fact, what will be your excuse next year Steve.

          2. j

            great analogy about Blackmon. kind of like how its assumed that players don’t bust their —– on defense anyway. only players who aren’t “great offensive players” should be expected bust their ass on every play. because if a player busts his ass on defense there is no way he has the strength to play offense. oladipo was a prime example of a guy that just couldn’t manage to put it all together in one game. i mean he could put on a defensive clinic but by the end of the game he couldn’t even jump up and grab the net let alone try to knockdown a layup. its just too much too ask.


            this article is about a porous defense that owns the third worst defensive efficiency rating in all of big ten basketball since 2002 and the coach saying shots aren’t falling.

            this article is not about lack of achievement.

            these 7 footers that are wearing out Blackmon and Hartman have to guard them too. do you think it wears a 7 footer out to chase Hartman around the perimeter? do you think it wears out somebody to guard Blackmon? yogi? Johnson? those guys put as much pressure on a defense as anybody in the big ten. they own the best offense in the big ten. yet after expending millions of calories defending the iu assault the opposing teams still have enough gas in the tank to score points and beat Indiana 6 out of the last ten games.

            this article is about the coach. you should read it sometime.

    2. kentsterling Post author

      My expectations were that IU would be in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten – anywhere from 2nd to 10th. Crazy year in the conference. Other than Wisconsin on top and Rutgers on the bottom, the rest was up for grabs.

      Your expectations were out of alignment with reality, but it worked for you. After winning seven Big Ten games last year, there was little chance IU would be worse this season. Vonleh – for all his measurable – was not a game changer, and he was the only thing close to a meaningful loss.

      Expectations for a top five or top ten program should be greater than that. Bo Ryan finishes in the top four every season. Tom Izzo gets to the Final Four often. Mark Turgeon brought a team into the Big Ten and succeeded beyond Indiana in year one.

      Either the expectations for IU need to be recalibrated, or someone needs to answer for this level of play.

      Next year is going to bring more of the same, and fans should be happy?


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