Lucky for Tom Crean, the tumultuous offseason is over. Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers can breathe a little easier, for the time being, and concentrate strictly on basketball.
Just three weeks ago, Crean was feeling the pressure from an IU fan base starved for a sixth national title banner to hang in Assembly Hall. Or at least an Indiana program back in the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.
Instead, Bloomington had controversy.
Back then, the news that freshman forward Emmitt Holt had been driving a car that hit sophomore teammate and that both players were drinking underage led to an outcry for a changing of the guard in Bloomington. Police said Holt, 18, was not responsible for the accident and was below the legal blood alcohol limit, but the Nov. 1 incident was the latest in a series of off-court incidents involving Crean’s players.
After 17 wins and missing the postseason altogether in 2013-14, many called for IU athletic director Fred Glass to turn up the heat on Tom Crean. With the most recent string of off-court issues, the change in temperature may be justified.
Glass gave Crean his vote of confidence when he told the Indianapolis Star earlier in the month that Crean “is the solution, not even part of the problem.” The vocal majority was skeptical at best of a coach who failed to capitalize on the No. 1 team in the nation two years ago.
While the clamor for Crean’s job has diminished with the start of the season, Indiana faces a critical week to set the tone for the remainder of the season. The Hoosiers already have been on both sides of an upset, defeating a ranked SMU team on Nov. 20 and losing at home to Eastern Washington on Nov. 24.
IU’s next tests begin this week when the Hoosiers host Pitt in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge today and face Louisville at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 9.
Those will be tall tasks for this Indiana squad, but Glass could be right in assuming that Crean is part of Indiana’s solution. Crean has dug Indiana out of a mess before. Seven years ago, when Crean was hired, the program faced NCAA sanctions from the Kelvin Sampson scandal.
The vast majority of the state’s top recruits had been overlooking IU for years, and the roster was riddled with failing grades, drug abuse allegations, nothing but walk-ons, and a lame duck interim coach in Dan Dakich.
In 2012, Crean helped deliver Indiana’s first Big Ten title in 20 seasons, back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and a No. 1-ranked team. For a time, Indiana was back among the elites.
Crean resurrected the program, recruiting players who succeeded academically and athletically. Last season, Indiana posted a perfect APR and received the APR Public Recognition Award for four consecutive years of academic excellence.
That counts for something, right?
Crean will have at least a season to deliver results, but what constitutes a success is open to interpretation. Athlon picked the Hoosiers eighth in the Big Ten and slotted them into the NIT, not a banner season by Indiana standards. Yogi Ferrell is one of the top point guards in the league, but his supporting cast is in question.
The arrival of freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson addressed the need for shooters and floor spacers the Hoosiers desperately lacked last season.
With sophomore sniper Collin Hartman returning from an ACL tear, and the arrivals of freshman Max Hoetzel and Illinois State transfer Nick Zeisoft, Indiana won’t be short on deep threats. In Indiana’s first six games they are averaging 9.7 3-pointers per game while shooting 43.6 percent from deep. Blackmon alone is shooting 57.1 from behind the arc.
The loss of big men Noah Vonleh to the NBA Draft and Luke Fischer to Marquette is Crean’s biggest issue, leaving the Hoosiers looking and playing like a run-and-gun Big East roster in the meat and potatoes Big Ten.
Rebounding and post defense are going to be the biggest areas of concern for the Hoosiers, especially in conference play.
Unfortunately for Crean, the frontcourt woes have been magnified by the rash of off-court issues.
Six-foot-nine forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who was arrested in February for DUI, is Crean’s most experienced true post player and averaging only 4.7 rebounds and 8.2 points so far this season against inferior competition. Sophomore forward Troy Williams, who was suspended four games for a second failed drug test, will be asked to play out of position and help solidify the post for Indiana this season.
Yet Crean has done enough in his tenure at Indiana to give him a chance to dig the Hoosiers out of their current predicament. Whether Indiana misses the tournament for a second straight year or surprises every college basketball prognosticator in America and goes dancing, Crean has earned the right to clean up this mess. He’s done it before.
-by Jacob Rose