— Reminders of Indiana’s legendary basketball greatness seem to be everywhere these days.
Former coach Bob Knight, the man who made the Hoosiers’ Cream and Crimson fashionable and successful, is constantly on ESPN. The sweaters aren’t red anymore, but when I see Knight doing analysis or appearing in commercials, I’m reminded of all the events that took him away from the Indiana sideline. I’m also reminded that the man is a basketball genius and maybe Indiana would still be one of the great programs if he had just enrolled in some anger management classes.
And every season, as we count down the remaining undefeated teams in college basketball, it brings back the glory days in Bloomington. Division I basketball hasn’t had a perfect team since Indiana in 1975-76. Do high school recruits laugh when they hear that?
Do they even believe there was a time when Indiana was that good in hoops?
Remember when Purdue-Indiana games were special? The whole nation looked forward to Gene Keady and Knight scowling at each other, battling to put their mark on that part of the college basketball territory.
Purdue visits Indiana’s Assembly Hall again on Wednesday. The Boilermakers have a lot at stake. But Tom Crean’s Indiana team? Not so much.
The Indiana Hoosiers remain irrelevant.
Not to the school, not to their fans, not to Crean, and certainly not to the community of Bloomington. But with a 12-15 record and a 3-11 Big Ten mark, the Hoosiers are irrelevant to college basketball’s big picture. They simply aren’t in the national discussion.
But that’s really not that surprising, is it? We all knew the Hoosiers were going away for a while. I understand this is Crean’s third season at Indiana. I understand it must be difficult to maintain much patience if you are an Indiana fan. There are rumblings some Indiana fans want Crean out because he hasn’t restored the program to those dominant days under Knight.
Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s not time to put Tom Crean on the hot seat.
Is Crean the right guy for the Indiana job? I thought he was when he was hired and I don’t think it would be fair to give up on him now — not yet. How do you establish a timetable for the recovery period Indiana’s program needed after the Kelvin Sampson recruiting scandal? Nobody knows.
Sampson is the guy who destroyed Indiana’s program — not Crean. Crean was given a 10-year contract to clean up Sampson's mess. Remember the first year under Crean? Six victories. Then came that 10-21 finish last season and, again I ask, what was the reasonable expectation for this season?
You might say Crean was starting a program from scratch, but in the Big Ten. The roster purge, the injuries, the recruiting limitations, the negative recruiting against Crean and the Indiana program, all combined to make this one of the toughest rebuilding jobs in college basketball history.
Preseason predictions had Indiana finishing ahead of Penn State, Michigan and Iowa. We now know that’s not going to happen. The Hoosiers might be better than Iowa in the standings, but they lost to the Hawkeyes both times this season. And with games remaining against Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois, it’s hard to imagine Indiana making any big move between now and March 5.
Last Saturday, the Hoosiers lost at home to Northwestern. That has happened only twice at Assembly Hall. Northwestern also swept the Hoosiers for the second time in three years.
“Our biggest problem tonight was exposed in the first half when there's not enough team accountability on the defensive end and a coach can sub and try to do that,” Crean said aftewrward. “We can practice all week and we can have great practices and all those types of things, but defensive-minded players do not accept when teammates on the court are not defending the way that they need to defend. Again, it has got to be a mindset that players bring to one another.”
If not for NCAA rules, Crean said he would have had his players practicing again right after the game. Instead, he settled for 7:30 the next morning.
On Jan. 27, the Hoosiers showed a lot of toughness as they snapped a 19-game losing streak against ranked opponents when they beat Illinois 52-49. The fans stormed the court and some exchanged high fives with Crean. Bloomington hadn’t partied that way in a long time.
That’s progress, isn’t it?
“These guys really, really earned it,” Crean said after that game. “They put forth a tremendous effort and energy, and like by brother-in-law [Baltimore Raves coach] John Harbaugh said in a text tonight, ‘Your team came of age.’ ”
There’s always basketball talent in Indiana. As recruits start to get past the problems at Indiana and embrace Crean’s style, he will get the caliber of player he needs to win more games. Crean is embracing the idea of early commitments. The Hoosiers already have two commitments for 2011 (including top 20 recruit Cody Zeller), four for 2012, and two for 2013.
Help is on the way. It takes time. Fans don’t like to hear that. We live in a world of instant gratification but college athletic programs cannot be built that way. Too often these days, athletic directors pull the plug on a coach too soon.
To those Indiana fans who want to show Crean the door, I would ask these questions: Do you really want to go back to square one again? Do you really want to start the process all over? Do you want to pay Crean for the rest of his 10-year deal and pay someone else to install a new system?
Crean can’t be enjoying this. But I bet he had a timetable in his mind when he took over. He’s a reasonable guy, and if there are reminders outside of Indiana, just imagine how often Crean bumps into the ghost of Indiana past. Let’s remind ourselves right now to revisit this topic one year from now. My prediction is that the Hoosiers will be at .500 or just above in the Big Ten in 2012. And they will be headed to the NIT.
That would be a step in the right direction. And a step in the right direction should be welcomed in Indiana after everything that has happened since Bob Knight departed.