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Meet Me in the Middle Special: IU Basketball

With March Madness in full swing, Hunter and Zander decide to talk about a team that is not even involved.  Indiana University Basketball fired their head coach, Tom Crean, recently and the guys are quite far apart on the state of the program.

Hunter – IU Basketball:  Mediocre at Best

If you are, have, or are just becoming a college basketball fan, then you know who IU is. Indiana University boasts one of the most decorated histories in all of college basketball. A team with 8 Final Four appearances and 5 National Titles, it is hard to compete with in terms of history. However, in recent years there has been a trend among IU fans that would suggest the Hoosiers should be winning titles every couple of years. First things first, that is absolutely ludicrous to expect from any team, but IU fans seem to think that they are entitled to some sort of compensation for having history within their University. News flash, that is not how it works. If it were all about history, then Oklahoma State (Oklahoma A&M at that time), NC State, Cincinnati, and even San Francisco (All with 2 National Titles) should still be expecting greatness every single season from their teams. Why shouldn’t they? They all have titles far too long ago to be considered great teams and frankly all of their fantasies seem to accept that those titles are part of their history. Key word, history.

Tom Crean was fired from his position of Head Coach at IU literally as the NCAA Tournament was tipping off yesterday. How desperate can you be for just a little bit of the spot light? Most people, including myself, probably said “wow they fired Crean” then simply went back to watching basketball all day instead of the news really meaning anything to us. If IU wanted to make a statement or even land themselves more than a few seconds of air time on major networks, the news could have been announced yesterday, or even before the tournament started, not as it was tipping off. IU has been with Crean for 9 years and the messy break up was thought to be coming from around the time the regular season ended. There was even some chatter that IU had been flirting with other coaches (Steve Alford of UCLA and an IU alum) to see if their was interest before breaking it off with Crean. Crean actually made the Sweet 16 on 3 separate occasions with IU including last year and won the Big Ten title twice. In his time he went 166-135 which is a 55% win percentage. He spent his first 3 years in charge cleaning up the mess that Kelvin Sampson created so his win percentage actually could have been much higher had he not had to rebuild the program.

IU has turned into that ex-girlfriend that thought she was better than you and deserved the world, but in the end fell of the deep end and fell flat on her face after she left but will never admit it that the good times are in the past. IU kept expecting these glorious titles and incredible accomplishments when in reality they are nothing more then a lower Big Ten side that is simply riding off of accomplishments their Dad’s and Grandfather’s experienced. There were glimpses of the great times again like a buzzer beater win over UK, and a few Sweet Sixteen appearances. But like the popular girl in high school, time took it’s toll on IU and that luster that once surrounded them has now gone and has been replaced by nothing more than an average appearance.

My real issue comes with the fact that IU decided not to host their NIT opening game against Georgia Tech even though they were the high seed. Why? Well originally IU said that their would be a construction issue and would not be able to host. Well guess what, they lied. The real reason is down right pathetic and truly shows the arrogance that surrounds the current state of Hoosier basketball. IU didn’t host their opening NIT game because they didn’t want Assembly Hall to be “Devalued” by hosting such a game. The last title for IU was 30 years ago and the program has been a mess in recent history. Saying they are above such a game, that they accepted to play in mind you, is everything wrong with the current state of IU basketball. News flash IU, you’re not above such a game because you finished 18-16 and deserved to be in the NIT. Claiming you are above such an event with a record that probably shouldn’t have even warranted a 3 seed in the NIT or possibly not even a bid at all, just furthers the growing national image that IU Basketball is a washed up program.

No matter who IU ends up hiring, nothing well ever quench the ever increasing thirst that comes with the IU fan base. The support that is given to any Indiana coach has been nothing but “What have you done for me lately?” love. If IU really wants to fins success in their program, then stop expecting National Titles every year, Big Ten Titles on demand, and that you are ever above a certain event or tournament. The environment around Hoosier Basketball stinks. As someone who has never supported IU basketball and never will, this just adds fuel to the fire of the disgust with anything IU. That IU could lie and think that a post season tournament with a substantial amount of history is not worth hosting, is down right embarrassing. You should be ashamed IU. History means absolutely nothing in the current basketball landscape with anyone having the ability to win the National Title any season. IU could potentially be replacing Crean with Steve Alford who by the way, has never made it past the Sweet Sixteen just like Crean. So if more success is what you are looking for IU, seems more like you want to rely more on that beloved history by bring back on of your own.

Could IU find that success once again one day? If anyone could do it, it it IU. But if you are a top Recruit now, why would you choose IU over Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and the likes? You wouldn’t. History is great and builds programs, but until another banner is added, the last title you had Hoosiers was 30 years ago. That number isn’t getting any smaller. Best of luck IU. You’re gonna need it.

Zander – Crean’s IU Stood for Inconsistent and Underperforming

IU finished its Men’s Basketball season quite far from where it began.  In the first month of the season, the team, which started ranked 13th in the nation, beat both Kansas and UNC, which are now 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, garnering themselves a rise to 3rd in the nation; however, the troubles could already be seen.  The team was rife with inconsistency and between the two impressive wins, they lost to IPFW, a school that is a coeducational branch of IU and Purdue in Fort Wayne, IN.  Eventually, the conference season started with the Hoosiers sitting pretty at 10-2 with two high quality wins and one of their losses to the ranked Butler squad at a neutral site. Unfortunately, the wheels soon fell off.  Poor play and injuries had fans hoping that the team could limp into March Madness based on their early season, but during a stretch where the Hoosiers were already without their leading scorer, Justin Blackmon Jr., O.G. Anunoby went down with a season ending injury.  At this point, many could see the writing on the wall.  O.G. was the defensive backstop of a squad that was lackadaisical at times, so IU was without their top scorer and defender for the final stretch of the season.  Their last hope was the Big Ten tournament, when they had returned their main players, minus Anunoby, but after a good win against Iowa in the first round, the team reverted to type and lost to Wisconsin.  They were relegated to the NIT after a season that started with so much promise, and unfortunately, brought a good bit scorn on themselves by not hosting their own game.

About two weeks before the game, ESPN claimed that there was to be construction on Assembly Hall while the students were out of town for Spring Break and IU would not host the NIT game against Georgia Tech, but IU issued a statement that stated that was not the case.  Then, people speculated that it might be due to a desire to save face for Tom Crean and keep him from being booed on his home court, but on Monday, the day before the NIT game, the Athletic Director, Fred Glass, attempted to put down the remaining theory.

“I know there is a perception out there that we did this to somehow protect Tom (Crean) from being booed at or something like that, and in my view that’s just not the case,’’ Glass said. “But I will plead guilty in wanting to protect the impression of Assembly Hall and not wanting to be on national TV when Assembly Hall wasn’t Assembly Hall. The students aren’t there and a lot — not all — but a lot of our fan base wouldn’t be able to be there, either.”  However he added that “we’re very eager and hopeful that we’ll host (the second round) next week. So if that falls together that will be awesome.’’

Looking back to the last time IU was in the NIT, the 2005 tournament saw them host their game against Vanderbilt University in front of a crowd of less than 5000 scattered around a hall that holds over 17,000.

This time around, IU, with their generous three seed, proceeded to lose their matchup against six seeded Georgia Tech in a rather inept fashion on the same day that the first two of the four play-in NCAA games were played.  Two days later, on the day March Madness began in earnest, IU announced that it was firing its head coach of nine years, Tom Crean.  The timing of this was suspect to some, seeing it as an attempt to grab a national headline on a day when they should be forgotten, and that may very well be true.  The Hoosier squad was talented this year, as evidenced by their early success, and they vastly underperformed down the stretch.  That could not be said of Crean’s early years.

When Crean arrived on the scene nine years ago, he inherited a mess of a program turned it around relatively quickly.  He revamped recruiting, gathering talent for the state and abroad.  His first season with a team of his own design, the 11/12 season, saw a 15 win improvement over 10/11 and a Sweet 16 birth.  For that, he earned the goodwill of the fans and boosters for a time.  His highlight at IU was the 12/13 season when the team reached the Elite 8 as a 1 seed and had two of the top four picks in the NBA draft.  (Granted: that draft was bonkers and would look significantly different if it was redone.  Giannis was drafted 15th and Gobert 27th.)  However, he was thoroughly outcoached in the Elite 8 loss by Jim Boeheim and his zone defense and could not maintain an acceptable level of consistency.  The very next season saw a 12-win decline and a failure to make even the NIT.  This was the first sign of real trouble.  Crean’s coaching gaffes became more visible.  He had a tendency to hoard timeouts, not using them to break up opponents runs, and his rotations were suspect, but he had lost two NBA level talents with little to replace them, so he was granted a reprieve.  He was further exonerated by making the Big Dance the next two seasons, including another Elite 8 birth last season.  However, this season he failed to make the NCAA tournament and finished 7-11 in conference play.

The result was largely the same as the hiccup in 13/14, but the key difference was the team he returned.  He entered this year having lost two key players in Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, but returned the majority of the team that had made the Elite 8 and added two 4 star recruits.  Additionally, the players he did return were a year older, wiser, and stronger, and looked to play a larger role.  Anunoby and Thomas Bryant were no longer freshmen and Bryant had added a nice three point shot.  Things were looking promising and the beginning of the season displayed how good the team could be, but the rest of the sad story has already been written.

Even though the regular season was disappointing, I think that Crean could have saved himself if he had made a good run in the NIT.  If he had made some progress there, he would have at least showed that he still had his team’s ear, but, as stated, they were unceremoniously bounced in an upset loss.  Crean has had talented teams that he has taken deep into the Big Dance, but he has often been outcoached, beaten by a lesser teams, and had his teams simply underperform.  In the end, I think that the boosters saw an opportunity at the end of this season.  If they fired Crean now, they would have an attractive basketball situation to court coaches.  Most players on the fringe of the NBA talent pool will leave if their season is high profile or has a high profile conclusion, but this year was utterly forgettable for IU.  The players that have a chance of being drafted, i.e. Blackmon Jr., Bryant, Anunoby, are likely to stick around to raise their profile for next year, especially when considering how deep the 2017 NBA draft will be.  This gives any potential coach an attractive nugget of a team that is ready to go on day one. Perhaps the administration and boosters could have been more thoughtful about the appearance of their announcement; perhaps they did this intentionally to get some of the coaches in the tournament thinking about the opportunity presented; perhaps they acted quickly to try to convince their possibly exiting players to stick around for another season; or perhaps all of things can be true.  Regardless of the real answer, the biggest impediment to getting a hire could be the location itself.  

The tired saying is, “Everywhere else, it’s basketball, but this is Indiana.”  IU is proud of itself and its history and the fans expect a great deal, but there are some overestimations of how great those expectations are.  They do not expect to be in the championship every year.  They do not expect to be in the Final Four every year.  I do not think that they would even expect to be in the Elite 8 or Sweet 16 every year.  I would say that they would expect to be in the tournament nearly every year with deep runs being not infrequent.  Those are high, but not terribly impossible expectations.

Realistically, Tom Crean had a good run.  He took the program from the rubbish pile back to national relevance most years.  Even though it may not seem like it, before he was fired, he was in the top third of Div. 1 coaching tenures.  Tom Crean had run his course.  His role was fulfilled.  Those who are clear eyed about this see that Crean was exceedingly good for the program, and in a few years, I would hope that most people will be thankful for what Tom Crean did when they think back.


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