It’s hard to know where to begin this post, but I have a feeling it’s going to be harder to know when to end. I just finished reading Pete DiPrimio’s piece on the end of this season. Read it here. He’s not wrong. In fact, he made a number of points I’ve been knocking around in my head for a while now.
First, this year’s schedule was a travesty. I’ve been a big supporter of both Crean and Indiana Athletic Director, Fred Glass, but scheduling the way they have since we lost the UK game (something for which they bear just as much responsibility as Calipari and Mitch Barnhart and something they should correct RIGHT NOW) is an embarrassment. And not for nothing, but it’s a complete disservice to season ticket holders. I made it down to two games this year, largely because of work conflicts, but there wasn’t a single game I was upset I had to miss and not a single game that the secondary ticket market had any interest in at all. I can’ t continue to be a season ticket holder if I can’t sell the tickets I can’t use. This schedule hurt my mind, my eyes, my head, my heart, and my wallet.
Dear Coach Crean and Fred Glass. Get this fixed yesterday. You owe this to the fans. You owe this to the program. You owe this to the players. You owe this to the season ticket holders, many of whom continued to be season ticket holders in Crean’s first three years. The fans may start to discount the impact of those three years as they get further in the past, and cease giving Crean credit for the job he did then. They shouldn’t, but they might. You cannot forget the impact of the fans sticking with the program during those years or very soon you’ll both be telling people, “Remember when I worked at IU.”
Second, this team did not get any better. Individual players got better, but as a team they never got better as shooters, they never learned to take care of the ball, they never learned how to close out a game, and it seemed that many of them never learned the plays. It is my intention (we’ll see how far I make it in this pursuit) to go back and see how often a play began where at least one player had no idea where he was supposed to be, but I can say for certain that it happened with one minute to go in the last game of the season.
There was individual improvement, Troy Williams, Stan Robinson, Yogi Ferrell, and Devin Davis all showed improvement. I’m not sure Noah improved much, though he was pretty damn good to start with. But this did not translate into team improvement.
Third, DiPrimio is absolutely right about the anger. It’s been there all year in some corners. And I’ve been pretty vocal in my position that people calling for Crean to be fired months ago have planted their flag on Stupid Island. And rehashing those arguments here does no good, particularly because after not making any type of tournament that chorus has gotten so loud they’d never hear my counter-points anyway. But what I’m about to say needs to be said.
Crean’s job is now in jeopardy.
Please understand what this is not.
1. This is not from any inside knowledge. It should be clear by now that I have none of that.
2. This is not a claim that he’s about to be fired. That’s dumb.
3. This is not me saying I was wrong all year.
4. This is not me going on record that he should be fired.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s examine why I’ve got him in the jeopardy column.
Everyone understood the first three years. To quote Crean, “That goes without saying. I mean, it’s all part of it.” That mess was going to take a long time to clean up and he did that. In an amazing way, he did that. But here we are, 12 months removed from a season with multiple Sports Illustrated covers, a #1 ranking, a #1 seed, and back-to-back Sweet 16s. People’s expectations have changed. The expectation pendulum has swung a bit too far toward the “We Should Always Be Awesome” side of things, but that’s where we are. Everyone expects us to be a tournament team. Everyone expects us to contend for the Big Ten title. Everyone expects us to be relevant.
Those are reasonable expectations. Even with a team that no one with any sense at all thought would be anywhere near as good as last year’s, the floor for this or any other IU team was an NCAA appearance and a top half finish in conference. This team was never going to be great, but they should have been much better than this.
Crean got a lot of post-Sampson rhythm. And he was entitled to some Big Ten Title and #1 seed rhythm this year. But now, after this traveshamockery of a season, that rhythm is gone. He is no longer the guy who brought us back from the dead. Or the guy who won the Big Ten.
He’s the guy who missed ALL of the tournaments.
He’s the guy whose most heralded recruiting class has produced exactly ONE viable college basketball player.
He’s the guy who can’t beat Nebraska.
He’s the guy with something to prove next year.
And if he doesn’t, we could be looking at a Mike Davis Type Situation here. An NCAA championship appearance didn’t mean anything for Mike Davis after two seasons like the one we just went through. The rumblings of discontent are pretty loud right now. Another season like this and they’ll be deafening.
I don’t think you can look at this season and draw the conclusion that Crean can’t coach. You’ve got a really small sample size there. You’ve got three seasons of understandable terribleness. You’ve got two seasons of IU basketball where it’s supposed to be, but which many would tell you involved some pretty serious underachievement, and you’ve got this.
I am of the firm opinion that a bad season does not a bad coach make. There’s not enough blame for terrible performance placed on the players who are performing terribly. This was a bad team. A team that was worse than even my modest expectations of them. Next year’s team could, should, and had better be a whole lot better than this team.
And if they’re not, Crean is in real trouble.
And here’s the challenge for Crean. Without significant improvement from everyone on this team and an other-wordly contribution from the recruiting class of 2014, next year’s team, while better, may not be better enough for the people already on the fire Crean side of the road. Our upperclassmen next year are going to be Austin Etherington, Yogi Ferrell, and three other guys who have yet to show they should be playing. That’s not good.
The only thing that will bring many of those Freaners (trademarked) back across the street is a trip to the Final Four, and that’s highly unlikely.
So, how does Crean survive this?
1. Win a National Championship next year and all his problems are solved.
2. Convince Noah to stay.
3. Find a way to motivate Jeremy or find a way to get him to transfer. Jeremy Hollowell, as he is currently constituted will get Tom Crean fired.
4. Use the off-season to coach some major improvement into the following people
5. Pray that James Blackmon, Jr. is Steve Alford and that Robert Johnson is Calbert Chaeney.
6. Schedule Kentucky wherever and whenever they want to play. This should actually be item #2 under win the National Championship
That’s what it boils down to. He has to win. It’s not enough for the Freaners that he has restored our good name. It’s not enough that we’re not cheating, that we’re graduating players, that we’ve got guys getting it done at the next level. Those things matter, but if you’re not winning, no one is going to see them.
Do the work that got you to the top last year. Do it again. And again. And again. And then do it every year. And never recruit another bad recruiting class.
I think he can do it. He’s built a title-level team from much, much worse than this. But it’s going to be much harder than inbounding the ball against Penn State at home up 9 with 2 minutes to go.