Sunday, January 2, 2011
IU Remains A Basketball Puzzle
Once upon a time Indiana basketball coaches walked on water. Okay, it was one particular coach, although you could argue for two (yes, we’re talking Bob Knight and Branch McCracken), but that misses the point that now more than ever Cream ‘n Crimson coaches are viewed as the problem and not the solution.
Mike Davis wasn’t quite up for the job, Kelvin Sampson was so bad a choice nobody took responsibility for his hiring, and the last couple of years have been painfully challenging, especially with Purdue rolling in the national rankings and Butler thriving in the postseason.
Now a fire-the-bum mentality has found Tom Crean. A four-game losing streak has ripped the luster from a 9-2 start and all but ruined thoughts of a postseason. Even a winless Big Ten looms as a dismal possibility, and fans are restless.
Does this mean Crean can’t coach?
No. He won big at Marquette, 190 wins in nine seasons, 160 in the last seven, 69 in his last three. His teams went 31-19 in the Big East. Marquette made the Final Four in 2005. He knows the game, has thrived everywhere he’s been, and it’s no accident. You don’t do that if you don’t know how to coach, recruit and game plan.
Still, this is a what-have-you-done lately world and lately the Hoosiers have not done well, not because Crean can’t coach, but because he’s still dealing with having had to start from scratch after Sampson nearly destroyed the program.
IU won a combined 16 games in Crean’s first two years, which was about as good as you could expect given the circumstances. That first season he had to bring in players he normally wouldn’t have signed just to fill out the roster. It will be another couple of years before the roster is filled with guys who fit his system.
That leads to this season. The Hoosiers have talent and experience, but they are not maximizing it. They don’t have much of an inside presence with 7-foot center Guy-Marc Michel’s ineligibility. Guard Maurice Creek is probably a year away from returning to full health and timing after his knee surgery. They turn the ball over too much. Their defense is, and we’re being diplomatic here, suspect. IU shot 50 percent against one of the top defenses in the country and still lost by 18 to Ohio State.
Nobody said resurrecting a program was easy, but it seems to have acquired quantum physics properties. Even Crean seems confused. He’s certainly frustrated.
“It’s a discombobulated puzzle right now,” he said, “but our job is to try and continue to put those pieces in the best position to play and compete and win each game. That’s what we get started on again as we get ready for the next one.”
Here’s what we know. IU is better than what it’s played the last few weeks. It is 9-6and should be 11-4. It should have gone 1-1 in Las Vegas and 1-1 in the first week of Big Ten play. Instead, it went 0-4. An 11-4 record would have made the 16 victories needed to clinch a NIT berth realistic.
Now the Hoosiers have to go 7-9 the rest of the regular season to make it. They will be favored in just one more game.
People want progress and suddenly it has stopped, if not regressed. They are not happy.
Perspective point: Off-the-court improvement has been monumental. Players are going to class, getting good grades and not getting suspended for a variety of screw ups. They represent the university with class.
Yes, we know. You still have to win. But you have to do it the right way. Crean does. He’s reconnected with former players and the program’s rich tradition. It will get better.
As far as the four-game losing streak, that can change, although trips to Minnesota and Northwestern this week are formidable, as is the rest of the Big Ten season. You can argue Xs and Os until you pass out, but the bottom line is the Hoosiers have to get mentally tougher, either because they mature into it or by adding mentally tougher players.
Adding players will take years. For now it’s getting the current players to buy into how hard they have to play every possession and how focused they have to be all the time. It remains a work in progress.
“We’re just not aggressive enough,” Crean said. “We’re not up into people well enough.”
That can change. It has to change. You don’t have to walk on water to see that.
According to the Bloomington Herald-Times, IU football recruit D’Angelo Roberts was one of 13 people arrested in conjunction with a fight and illegal alcohol consumption over the weekend. Roberts, a heralded running back out of Bloomington North High School, was arrested on illegal consumption charges. Police had arrived at a Bloomington apartment complex to break up a fight, then found most of the people were under legal drinking age. Roberts has verbally committed to IU.