Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass will wait until the season ends and then evaluate the basketball program. The decision will be made to either retain Tom Crean as the basketball coach or relieve him of his responsibilities.
There are two sects of Indiana Basketball fans – those who view Crean as the hero of IU hoops who rode in on a white horse to save the program during its darkest moment with diligence and excellent recruiting, and those who see him as an overmatched schemer whose hyperactivity and inability to teach defense has frustrated players and fans.
Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.
Indiana will play the final home game of a very disappointing season tonight against Northwestern, a team enjoying its finest year. Indiana is 5-10, in 13th place among 14 teams in the Big 10.
For many fans who spend the majority of their idle time ruminating about Indiana Basketball, the result of a season that began with such promise is unacceptable.
Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons or firing and retaining Crean to see if we can find a little clarity or common ground. Here are five reasons – in no particular order – to hold on to Crean:
- Who is a better replacement? The names being thrown around as the next coach are either pie in the sky pipe dreams or uninspiring. Brad Stevens (Celtics), Steve Alford (UCLA), Archie Miller (Dayton), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Chris Mack (Xavier), Dane Fife (assistant at Michigan State), Will Wade (VCU), and Kevin Keatts (UNC Wilmington) are among the names that come to mind as potential leaders, but do any give you the notion that a sixth banner is right around the corner? Maybe one of them would either agree to come or provide IU with its next great coach.
- Injuries robbed this Indiana team of chance to succeed. Collin Hartman would have brought steady delivery of fundamentals and leadership, and O.G. Anunoby can defend all five spots as an athletic freak. James Blackmon Jr. was gone for a few games too. With a healthy roster, Indiana might have been good enough. With Hartman healthy, it can be assumed that IU would have been one point better @ IPFW – a game lost in overtime). With Hartman and Anunoby playing, they likely would have been a bucket better against Minnesota and a point better than Iowa. By being four points better, Indiana would be 18-10 and 7-8 in the Big 10, and inside the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. It’s likely IU might have found a way to be a bit better than that.
- Indiana has won two Big 10 championships in last five seasons. The NCAA Tournament is a crapshoot, and winning four straight games in March to advance to the Final Four is tough. Winning more Big 10 games than anyone else in the conference is a test of basketball and intestinal fortitude.
- Hoosiers program better today than 10, 15, or 20 years ago. After Damon Bailey’s graduation, Indiana under Bob Knight started recruiting all over the place, and the result was an uneven mess. Mike Davis was unready to lead IU by his own admission. Kelvin Sampson was an amoral and corrupt leader (according to NCAA rules at the time) of a previously pious and chaste program. Crean inherited a mess, and cobbled together rosters that became very competitive in his fourth season. From 1995-2012, Indiana advanced to one Sweet 16 and shared one Big 10 regular season championship. From 2013-2016, Indiana won two Big 10 titles outright, and has advanced to three Sweet 16s.
- Maybe this is as good as it gets for IU. Indiana is not Louisville, Kentucky, North Carolina, or Duke. It’s also not the consistent winner that Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan are. A close comp over the past six years is West Virginia. Is there a coach out there like John Calipari was after the grim and brief Billy Gillespie era at Kentucky, or a Roy Williams following Matt Doherty and Bill Guthridge at UNC who can resurrect Indiana to it’s former greatness?
Okay, let’s compare the reasons to keep Crean with some that call for a regime change:
- Style does not sync with Indiana heritage. Even when winning, Indiana fans are baffled by the Hoosiers inability to defend and take care of the ball. For generations Indiana players appeared smarter and better prepared to compete than their opponents. Today’s Hoosiers either out-talent opponents or lose.
- Crean can no longer recruit Indiana. Four high school seniors from Indiana are ranked in the top 30 nationally, and none will play for Indiana. IU continues to offer Indiana kids, but none seems as keen on playing in Bloomington as Cody Zeller or Yogi Ferrell were. If Crean can’t recruit the home state hot bed, how can they compete with the programs that can. Gary Harris, Trey Lyles, Zak Irvin, Caleb Swanigan, and Kyle Guy would have helped Indiana win games if not championships.
- Incoming class not a game changer. Clifton Moore, Al Durham, and Justin Smith are doubtless nice young men who have a great talent to play basketball, but they comprise a recruiting class not ranked in the top 40 in the country. Their arrival will coincide with the almost certain departure of Anunoby, Blackmon, and Thomas Bryant. Fans are not bullish that brighter days are ahead based upon the current state of Crean’s recruiting.
- Alternative to firing is an extension. If Crean is invited to return to Bloomington by not being asked to leave, he will have three years remaining on his contract, and as his buyout drops to $1-million on July 1st, he will ask for an extension that rewards him for the success that had been lacking for 15 years prior to his arrival. Can Indiana justify extending the contract of a coach whose presence in Bloomington has motivated thousands of empty seats in Assembly Hall over the last month.
- Failed to post winning Big 10 record three of last four seasons. Indiana’s record over the last four Big 10 seasons is 36-33 with three non-winning seasons. That is a mediocre result that includes one very nice 15-3 season. Taking the unfair step of removing the 2016 campaign, Indiana is 21-30 in conference play in 2014, 2015, and 2017. If past is prologue, the future looks dim indeed.
The distilled result of the five reasons to replace Crean is an apathy among longtime fans and donors that might compel action.