Indiana Basketball – How does Tom Crean measure up in Big 10 & among past IU coaches?

Like it or not, this is Indiana, and it might just always be Indiana.

Is Indiana’s mediocrity this season because of injuries or incompetence?

Is it an inability to recruit Indiana high school stars or an inability of current players to invest in the process?

Is it Tom Crean as a coach, Tom Crean as a recruiter, or a series of unpleasant and unlucky circumstances?

All good questions that can be debated with the same set of facts applied through different prisms.

What cannot be debated are the records of Big Ten coaches who have been in their positions over the past six years or more years, and how Crean ranks among them.

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There are eight of those coaches (including Wisconsin with both Bo Ryan and Greg Gard – Ryan resigned and Gard took over, so they receive special dispensation).  We include Mark Turgeon of Maryland because he’s led the Terps for more than six years despite Maryland being a member of the Big 10 for just three seasons.

We restrict the comparison to the Big 10 records because programs play a differing level of competition doing the non-conference and postseason, so this is the best way to make an apple to apple comparison.

Here are the eight coaches/programs ranked by Big 10 winning percentage over the last six seasons:

  1. Bo Ryan/Greg Gard, Wisconsin – 75-31, 70.8%
  2. Mark Turgeon, Maryland – 36-16, 69.2%
  3. Tom Izzo, Michigan State – 73-33, 68.9%
  4. John Beilein – 67-39, 63.2%
  5. Thad Matta, Ohio State – 64-42, 60.4%
  6. Tom Crean, Indiana – 62-44, 58.5%
  7. Matt Painter, Purdue – 59-47, 55.7%
  8. Fran McCaffery, Iowa – 58-48, 54.7%

Okay, so Crean ranks sixth among the seven Big 10 coaches/programs that have not flipped leadership since 2011.

I though it also might be interesting to compare Crean’s last six years (the seasons after which he rebuilt the Indiana program) with the last six years of Bob Knight’s reign and the only six years of the Mike Davis era:

  1. Bob Knight – 60-42, 58.8% (total number of conference games differs because of the period the Big Ten only played 16 games, and Crean has two games left this season)
  2. Tom Crean – 62-44, 58.5%
  3. Mike Davis – 55-41, 57.2%

It’s interesting to note that if Indiana loses tonight at Purdue, Crean’s winning percentage will be  57.9%, and he will be in a virtual tie with Davis.

The extrapolation of the Knight vs. Davis vs. Crean comparison is that it may not matter a damn who the coach at Indiana is.  Indiana’s Big 10 success through those six year runs that comprise 18 of the last 23 seasons is almost precisely equal.

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Whatever the arguments about style, recruiting, and other subjective metrics, there is no arguing wins and losses.

Crean’s Indiana ranks in the middle of the Big 10 – just as it has for the last 23 years.

Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-7p, and writes about Indiana sports at


12 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – How does Tom Crean measure up in Big 10 & among past IU coaches?

  1. Jay Steele

    Hey Kent! I really appreciate how you keep it objective and don’t get sucked into the dribble and lame conversations that are going nowhere. Perspective brings focus, and your posts always add an element of focus for me every time.

    Here is a subject I would love for you to tackle. I saw your pic of the balcony at the Northwestern game. This is a trend I have been noticing for several years, and it just seems to be getting worse. I have been a Hoosier for many years, and remember the “glory days” when Assembly Hall was packed to the rafters for non-conference games. Now, we can’t even fill it for the final home game of the season. This is what disturbs me most. What is happening to the Hoosier fan base? Why are they not showing up to support this team? I know there are a lot of variables that are influencing this, but it sure would help if we could understand what is behind this decline in attendance. I hope you consider digging into this one further. I look forward to hearing what you uncover. Take care and keep on keeping it real.

    1. Bret Reichenbacker

      Kent that isn’t very accurate because you leave out many factors. For one, you need to get rid of any teams ranked above 250 or 300 in Division I. Those teams are horrible and do nothing to tell the real story.

      Hint: Crean pads our nonconference schedule with tons of teams ranked 250 or lower, frequently over 300. Crean had I think 8 games this season against absolute horrible teams in the non conference.

      Secondly, Knight had that record playing better non conference schedules AND close to a round Robin schedule in the bigten. Back then, you played almost everyone twice, so the schedules were very balanced. Now, the bigten scheduling is horrid. You play 5 teams twice and 8 TEAMS ONCE!

      Creans record vs the top 100 Kenpom in the last 4 seasons is horrible(36-42) LOSING RECORD!

    2. joel

      I dont think there is any objectivity from Hoosier fans when it comes to ” all things” IU basketball.
      Kent maybe on some , but others, no.

  2. Dave

    To me, the difference lies in their talent at the national level. Both Bob Knight and Mike Davis made it to a National Championship or a Final Four. I’m not suggesting Mike Davis should have stayed AND I’m well aware those were Bob Knight’s recruits, but Tom Crean is not even in that conversation nor does it appear he will be anytime soon. Bob Knight’s last six years at Indiana were, in my opinion, not his finest when compared to his overall career. However, his national success carried a lot of good will for fans to be patient with him. Whether real or imaginary, there was the perception he could get us back to national prominence. I don’t believe many would argue Mike Davis’ departure was premature. So the question still remains ‘can this head coach compete at the national level’.

  3. artistderekcollins

    Jay Steele speaking of the attendence. Indiana fans are supposedly supposed to be a intelligent fans base as it relates to basketball. I am 58 and I remember well the Knight era. Indiana fans were proud of our defense,smart play and fundamentals.
    Most of my friends who are IU fans also played in high school. We all complain to each other how we hate the way IU plays even during the seasons when we are winning under Crean. It’s just not fun watching us win if we don’t block out, turn the ball over, and don’t play much defense. These problems seem to be the norm under Crean. More and more of my friends have stopped watching or going to games,not because we are losing, because of the way we play. I think it was a terrible mistake to hire a coach who wasn’t know to be a defensive coach,given the history of the program. Play any style you want, just play sound basketball.

    1. Colorado Hoosier

      I completely agree with artistderekcollins comments! HOW you play the game is more important than winning another banner. Another championship banner hanging in Assembly Hall and exactly one dollar will buy me a Coke down at McDonalds. By all means, let’s stay away from attempting to change the IU basketball program for the better in order to find another Vonleh or Zeller to hone for future NBA stardom!

  4. Jeff Gregory

    You would have made a better point if you would have left Knight out of that comparison. That just happened to be his worst 6 years of his LONG career. He was better before AND after at Texas Tech (considering the circumstance). Even if you leave Knight’s first six years out of it (with two undefeated seasons) he outclassed that field in the subsequent three 6-year periods with (65%, 76%, and 79%). His career B1G winning percentage is 70% so yeah.

  5. Dayton Dave

    Kent, I liked your previous articles better than this one. Some of the comments have already pointed out that Crean’s product on the court is lacking. Comparing Crean to the last 6 years of Bob Knight is interesting but flawed. Bob Knight got fired, in part, because he stopped winning as much as he had been. (That plus his tripping over his own ego.) Davis got let go because he didn’t know how to bring it together…consistently. The product Crean provides is AAU-style run faster and faster with the defense as an afterthought. The turnovers and lack of assists and few smart plays and the awful weave and the pointless positionless plan shows he is over his head if one wants this program to be elite. It costs games. IU can’t even field a true point guard.

    And in looking at only the B1G the article misses a couple of issues. Getting the team to play to it’s strengths is not Crean’s forte. Getting a decent seed in the NCAA Tourney is critical to hanging another banner for a National Championship. Crean is falling down there. I really don’t know if Crean doesn’t recruit players with a high basketball IQ or it is Crean’s lack of understanding of how to best utilize the players he gets.

    IU got rid of Knight and Davis for those results. Time that IU got rid of Crean for them too.

  6. Ryan


    I noticed you left out Sampson’s record. He won 72% of his Big Ten games. If you take out what he did to the program, doesn’t that prove that with a good in game coach that recruits well, within the rules, IU can quickly become relevant again.

    Sampson revived the program really quickly after Davis, if he would’ve just done it within the rules I have no doubt IU would be dominant right now.

    1. Kent Sterling Post author

      Two years isn’t long enough to show sustained quality. Sampson was a terrible recruiter who filled the IU roster with screwballs. Eric Gordon was a single-year anomaly. No doubt Sampson can coach, and if IU was a m minor league franchise I would agree with you.

  7. joel

    I really highly doubt the basketball team will return to a level of dominance that it had any time soon . The name, brand, IU does not sell like it use to. Maybe just to the IU faithful , but that would be about it. To revive that situation in Gods country , they really need to find a special coach you can start a rebuild and keep a sustained level of excellence that has been expected from the fans base due to the years Knight was there. That wont be easy and recruiting is a tough business . Lots of competition in the Big 10 and mid west for players. IU is not the dominant factor it once was. What’s going on in Bloomington now is not helping the situation.
    Can IU become a very good program in the Big 10? I am sure it can. It has at times under Crean. But to return to the glory years? Uh…. I would not bet on it anytime soon.
    Kids these days did not grow up in that era where IU was the place to go. Things change, culture changes.
    This is not your daddy’s IU anymore. I know its hard to accept and come to terms with , but little Johnny Maplewood with his crew cut out of a small town in Indiana is not coming back to save this program anytime soon under a “general ” of a coach.


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