Two in Four

When last season ended, I wondered out loud and in writing whether it might not be better for Tom Crean to resign and just be done with it already. Not because I thought he was a bad coach, or that he shouldn’t be our coach, but because I saw the task of shutting the Freaners up as nigh on impossible. The only thing, I reasoned, that would satisfy the mob with the pitchforks and ability to tweet about how Mark Cuban should spend his money would be a trip to the Final Four and I wasn’t sure how likely that was.

I’m still not sure how likely a Final Four run. It’s certainly possible, but the tournament is so much about match ups and good fortune, it’s really hard to predict, but I no longer think that’s necessary for Crean to survive and thrive at Indiana. This season has turned a really important corner for his career at IU and the grumpy online fans are just gonna have to suck on it and like it. Tom Crean is our coach. And that is a good thing.

Here’s how that changed.

  • He got rid of every single piece of “The Movement” but one. And that one is Yogi Ferrell and he’s become something special.

I’ve written before about the surprising amount of damage one bad recruiting class  can do to a program and a coach, and this one was filled with players who either were never going to be able to play at this level, players uninterested in working hard enough to be the kind of players we needed them to be, and players either too reckless or too stupid to stay out of trouble. In short, the exact wrong group of guys to try to continue building on the type of program Cody, Victor, Jordan, Verdell, Christian, Derek, Matt, and Mo had built. This season, all that was left was Yogi. That was massive.

  • I’m going to say this. You’re going to immediately agree. And you’re going to kind of wonder why you hadn’t thought of it before. This is the first freshman class in years where I’ve legitimately liked all of the players.

Without me bagging on any specific kids, just think about it yourself. There was at least one member of each previous class that you either didn’t like as a person, even though you’d never met them, or that was not capable of playing Indiana basketball. Not this group. Thomas, OG, and Juwan all seem like really good kids, who play hard, contribute something right now, and can all get so much better. I doubt we’ll have Thomas for much longer, but how excited are you for OG as a senior?

  • This Big Ten Title changes everything.

Tom Crean has now won two Big Ten regular season titles, outright, in four years. You want the list of coaches who have done that in the last 40 years? Ok

  • Bob Knight (75, 76) (80, 81, 83)
  • Bill Frieder (84, 85)
  • Gene Keady (94-96)
  • Tom Izzo (99, 00)
  • Bruce Weber (04, 05)
  • Thad Matta (06, 07)
  • Tom Crean (13, 16)

That’s it. That’s the list. Those are outright wins, not shared. That’s why Knight’s not on there again for any combination of 87, 89, 91, and 93.

And Crean’s accomplishment may rival any of those on the list (save both of Knight’s runs there with the two undefeated teams and the three titles with only the post-Landon year missing, and possibly Keady pulling off three in a row in the mid-1990s) because Crean has had to completely rebuild his team over those four years. And the two years in between have been rocky at best. There have been leadership issues, off the court problems, bad basketball, a missed NCAA tournament and so much heat from his own fan base as to make the job look borderline unattractive to any other high profile coach the Freaners would want to hire to replace him.

When Crean was hired, he basically bought a burned down building on a piece of very prime real estate, built a mansion, then gutted the mansion after a couple of years and did a total rehab in three years. HGTV has never had a show like this, but I’d watch it if they did.

And this championship has been remarkable. After The Maui Jim’s Maui Jim Invitational Brought to you by Maui Jim’s and that second half catastrophe at Duke, I had real doubts that Crean could fix what was broken with this team as it was the same stuff that had been broken for a couple years, namely defense, turnovers, and rebounding. He fixed those things.

This team has gotten so much better and they have learned from the things they’ve done wrong. And now, on the road, for the title, with two starting guards in street clothes, Tom Crean clinched his second outright Big Ten Regular Season Championship in four years.

That is not only cause to celebrate today, but it’s also the answer when people start complaining if they don’t make it to the Final Four this year (again, not a lock, but certainly a possibility). Crean has shown that he can not only rebuild and win, but he can then do it again.

No one in their right mind shoves that guy out the door.

Now, I’d prefer a Final Four and a National Championship and for the next two seasons not to repeat the pattern where we have to completely rebuild around a group of morons, but if we lost in the Sweet 16 and fell to the middle of the Big Ten for the next year while Crean rebuilt and reconfigured, I could live with that. I’ve seen what he can do enough times to believe he can do it again.

Crean doesn’t need a Final Four to secure his place at IU. It would be pretty great if he got one this year and it would shut just about everyone up, but two in four is a really solid floor upon which to rebuild a dynasty.

Jeff Taylor