It’s time for a new era in Bloomington. While many called for such change prior to the beginning of the 2014-15 men’s basketball season, there seems to have been a calm that has fallen over Hoosier Nation as Tom Crean’s team began the year on a high note.
Going 10-3 in non-conference play with victories over No. 22 SMU and No. 23 Butler was impressive. I’ll admit I was one who didn’t have high expectations for this year’s Indiana Hoosiers when the season began and was pleasantly surprised when I saw them play a competitive first half against No. 4 Louisville. I was impressed when I saw a team with very little frontcourt depth go into Nebraska on New Year’s Eve and pull off a victory against what many consider a strong Cornhuskers program. But from the beginning, I always put an asterisk next to every game with a reminder to wait until the real competition began and this team started going up against some quality Big Ten basketball opponents. The first one of those matchups came Monday night when IU went into East Lansing and frankly got embarrassed by Tom Izzo and his crew.
Coming into this season, major story lines loomed over Crean’s program thanks to some poor decisions by his players in recent months. For many programs, one or two run-ins with the law is more than enough to seriously question a coach’s effect on his team, but when athletes are consistently making headlines for poor judgment, something needs to change … and fast.
Not surprisingly though, IU stood behind Coach Crean and allowed him to stay on for this season. While the large sum of money due to Coach Crean in the coming years was probably a factor in allowing him to stay on as the head of the men’s basketball program, the image and brand of IU Athletics took a major hit by allowing him to return.
But now, it seems as if an unexpectedly strong start to the season has made some people forget about such incidents that happened just days before the tip-off of the season. While I am not writing to ask for change to things that happened in the past, I feel it is worth noting. Instead, I think change needs to occur for the same reason professional coaches get fired all the time, a lack of production.
A 10-3 record going into conference play is nice, but there are still many facets of Crean’s coaching style that have kept IU from achieving its goal of a national championship. These same weaknesses once again reared their ugly head Monday as IU could do little to stop Michigan State.
On multiple occasions this season — specifically in the second half versus Louisville and midway through the second half of the Georgetown, Pittsburgh and Butler games — IU’s offense has sputtered as opposing team’s defensive pressure has picked up. With a very young team, this is where coaching and play calling become vital to a team’s chances of being successful. Unfortunately for IU, this hasn’t been the case. While the Hoosiers are 2-2 in those four games, a 3-1 record with one or two 10-plus victory margins should have been the outcome.
Crean’s inability to put players in positions to be successful late in games is the same thing that plagued IU when they faced Syracuse in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, not to mention the past two seasons in general.
Like players, coaches are also asked to create a list of their strengths and weaknesses, or at the very least find an assistant coach to do so for them. Many offensive-minded NFL coaches have been fired because of their team’s poor defense and vice versa. Other organizations and college programs have the same mindset. Why should IU be any different?
The point being, coaches get fired for their inability to fix their weaknesses. It’s a standard across all sports organizations and leagues, yet for some reason IU feels it is above that. Tom Crean has had his chance (seven years to be exact), now it’s time for someone else to try and bring this team a title. At the very least, Hoosier fans deserve better.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mdlugie and listen to him on “The Round Table” Thursdays from 6-7 pm