Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Izzo Over Crean – What’s Up With That?
Let’s just say the people at IU are not happy that Tom Crean did not win Big Ten coach of the year honors.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo did via a vote from conference coaches and a conference media panel.
Izzo won because the Spartans shared the Big Ten title with Ohio State and Michigan. Usually, but not always, the coach of the championship team gets the award.
Based on that criteria, you could argue that Michigan’s John Beilein deserved it more. His Wolverines did more, with less, than Izzo and Ohio State’s Thad Matta.
All three teams tied at 13-5 in Big Ten play. Ohio State is ranked No. 7 with a 25-6 record. Michigan State is No. 8 with a 24-7 record. Michigan is No. 10 with a 23-8 record.
None of these coaches did as much as Crean did. The program was decimated after the Kelvin Sampson mess. IU lost 66 games in the next three years, including last year’s 12-20 mark.
Crean and his staff built up the talent (let’s just say the recruiting has been outstanding), developed the players and coached them into an impressive group. Adding Cody Zeller this season was the final piece.
Zeller, by the way, was league coaches’ pick as the Big Ten freshman of the yeare. The media panel picked Michigan point guard Trey Burke.
Anyway, Indiana was a force all season. It started 12-0, beat No. 1 Kentucky, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan State and No. 15 Michigan (those were the rankings at the time IU played them).
If not for a late meltdown at Nebraska (a REALLY bad loss) and poor play at home against Minnesota (the only Assembly Hall defeat) the Hoosiers would have tied for the league championship. They finished 24-7 (yes, the same overall record as Michigan State), 11-7 in the Big Ten. They are ranked No. 15.
Yes, we know. Every team can point to a loss or two that could have been a victory, but that misses the point, which is IU has come a long, long way. Nobody except the guys in the Cream ‘n Crimson locker room expected this kind of turnaround for this season.
Without Crean, this doesn’t happen.
During Crean’s Monday night radio show, assistant coach Steve McClain addressed that topic, and the fact Zeller wasn’t a unanimous freshman-of-the-year choice.
He called the coaching choice a “popularity contest.” He said, “There’s no question, when you look at where we’ve come, making the biggest improvement of a BCS school in the country, that’s disappointing.” He even suggested this is part of an overall mindset that was happy IU struggled and didn’t want to see the program return to national prominence.
Here’s specifically what he said on the radio show:
“What gets lost is you forget about the win at North Carolina State; you forget about the Kentucky win; the Notre Dame win; you forget about our start. Forget where we were a year ago to where we are today. It’s a popularity contest.
“There have been a lot of people who have enjoyed having Indiana down. All of them knew the day Tom Crean was hired, it was coming back. Maybe that doesn’t make some of those people happy.
“Whether it’s the all-conference teams, whether it’s the coach of the year, that’s what this team is. It’s a team. Cody, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls.
“It amazes me that Cody is up for three national freshman of the year awards, but yet the media didn’t vote him as one of the best freshmen. Sometimes I don’t get all those things.
“There’s no question, when you look at where we’ve come, the biggest improvement of a BCS school in the country, that’s disappointing.”
Is there a conspiracy? It doesn't matter. The best thing IU could do is use that disappointment to fuel a long, long postseason run
It starts Thursday at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse against Penn State, a team the Hoosiers have beaten twice.
Zeller and Burke both had great performances last week and, as a result, shared Big Ten freshman of the week honors. Zeller averaged 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds to lead the Hoosiers over Michigan State and Purdue. It was his seventh freshman of the week award.
Burke averaged 20.0 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds as Michigan beat Illinois and Penn State, both on the road, to share the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State.
It’s the third straight week he won the award and his seventh of the season, as well.
As far as who had the better year, you could call it a wash.
Zeller leads IU in scoring (15.4 points), rebounding (6.4) and shooting (63.5 percent) and is on pace to break Matt Nover’s school record for accuracy (62.8 percent) set in 1993.
Even though he has yet to take a three-point shot, Zeller’s inside presence has helped the Hoosiers go from 162nd in the country last year in three-point shooting to third this season, at a Big Ten-leading 43.2 percent.
“When you talk about Cody’s impact,” coach Tom Crean said, “a lot of it doesn’t show up statistically. So much shows up in how we’ve played. It’s a lot of the same players getting better, but a lot is Cody making others better.
“It’s unique when somebody can play the position he plays, fill a stat sheet like he does, impact a game on both ends of the floor, and can make everybody better. All you have to do is look at our record a year ago (12-20) and what it is now. He’s the one who has played the most of anybody new on the team. That impact speaks for itself.”
Burke also made an impressive impact. As a freshman, he took over running the Michigan show even though this was a veteran group. He averaged 14.5 points and was second in the Big Ten in assists. That is EXTREMELY difficult to do.
As Purdue coach Matt Painter said, “Both are great players. It’s a great argument on which is better.”
Zeller and Burke also made the Big Ten all-freshman team.
Victor Oladipo made the Big Ten all-defensive team, as he should have. He led the team in steals (46) and in defensive deflections. He always guarded the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
Plus, he became a primary ballhandler down the stretch and really picked up his offense, averaging 14.8 points in the last seven games. That earned him Big Ten honorable mention acclaim.
Also making honorable mention were Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. Watford ranks second on the team in scoring (11.8) and rebounding (5.6), while shooting 79.3 percent from the line. His buzzer-beating three-pointer defeated No. 1 Kentucky 73-72 in December. He has 1,199 career points.
Hulls averages 11.1 points and 3.4 assists. He ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point shooting (48.0 percent). He’s among the league leaders in free throw shooting (88.9 percent). Hulls also was named IU’s Sportsmanship Award winner. He’s a finalist for the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.