Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tom Crean, Star Trek and Grumpy Times

Tom Crean was grumpy. Or was he provoked? Or, well, does it matter?

Ah, these are the questions of our lives in an era in which girlfriends sometimes don’t exist, Tour de France champs can be frauds and the only thing we know for sure is that one Crean-related family, the Harbaughs, are Super Bowl bound.

Anyway, Crean was not the happiest coach in America in the wake of his Hooisers’ 67-59 victory over Northwestern. He was a bit edgy, perhaps because his team didn’t play like a juggernaut, perhaps because of some of the criticism directed his way, and that of his players, after last week’s Wisconsin defeat.

Or, perhaps, because he’s an intense guy and if you’ve seen Big Ten action this season, you know how intense that can be, and in the few minutes after a game it’s hard for that intensity to cool off.

Anyway, IU is 16-2, and spent a big part of the season ranked No. 1, but those two losses weigh heavily on fans’ minds. They see half-court vulnerability, poor second-half adjustments and coaching weakness. Some anger is directed toward Crean, who before the Butler loss could walk on water and who now, after the Wisconsin loss, is seen as mortal.

There is a famous Star Trek line – “Behold, the god who bleeds!” – that reflects this kind of thinking, but we don’t want anyone to think we base ALL our philosophy on a 1960s Sci-Fi TV episode.

Anyway, elite coaching is rewarding for a number of reasons, including the mega-million-dollar salaries, but with it comes off-the-charts pressure. Lose once and you’re a bum. Lose twice and, well, reap Kim Kardashian notoriety. Sometimes not even winning is enough. In 2002 Ohio State went undefeated and won the national football championship, but won a lot of close games, in part because of a great defense and mediocre offense. Fans grumbled about the failings of then coach Jim Tressel right up until the time the Buckeyes claimed the national title trophy.

With that in mind, and submitted for your approval (yes, that’s a reference to another 1960s’ Sci-Fi TV show – do you know which one?), is an excerpt from Crean’s Sunday post-game press conference. The Hoosiers held Northwestern to 30.4 percent first-half shooting to build a 14-point halftime lead, more than enough, as it turned out, to secure their third straight Big Ten road win.

Here’s one part of Crean’s press conference:

Our key is that we've just got to stay locked in to what we're doing, and try to stay away from all of the clutter and noise and all those things that can distract you from…and there is so much of it…you just have to stay locked in to what's important, and that is how do you improve and how do you make your teammates better…and what is your recipe for winning. Our guys have done a really good job the last couple days of really understanding that again. They've been very locked in to this game, and I think it showed in our defense.”

The “clutter and noise,” we assume, is all the griping on the message boards and from some media analysts.

Then there was this from the same press conference:

I thought our guys really defended…I think…one thing I had to remind them of, because they never read about it or hear about it, is that they are in the top 10 in field goal percentage defense…and they are in the top 10 in field goal percentage defense and offense…and nationally. I think they needed to be reminded when we do those things we're pretty good.”

And then a young reporter from a college publication tried this question:

“Coach, against Minnesota you guys scored I think 52 points in the first half and then you fell back in the second half. It was kind of a similar thing today but maybe not to the same degree.. Northwestern was able to claw back in the second half. Was there any similarities?”

Crean: "What's your point? I don't get it. Claw back? What do you mean?"

They were able to narrow the deficit in the second half.”

Crean: “Well, they played pretty well…those teams played well. We actually…we won both of those games…make sure that you write that, too.”

And then, well, Indiana has another intriguing week, which is what Big Ten basketball is all about. On Wednesday struggling Penn State comes to Assembly Hall and the Hoosiers figure to win decisively. Then Michigan State, which leads the Big Ten with a 5-1 record, comes to town next Sunday. That will be a real chance for IU to show its championship mettle.

Win both and Crean might be, for a few minutes, back to walking on water. But as we know from the early Big Ten season, nothing is sure except nobody walks above the rest for long.

Captain Kirk couldn’t have said it any better.


  1. The Twilight Zone

  2. Well, maybe some of these people would want Kelvin Sampson back, or better yet Mike Davis
    so you could watch him rush the court. Only a complete FOOL would complain about the job Tom Crean has done!!!!!
    Tom S.

  3. Crean is a great recruiter and his players seem well prepared, but he has a lot of work to do as an "in-game" coach. The reason teams are coming back on IU and why Butler won is that he doesn't adjust well. He doesn't recognize situations well. I hope he can learn this, and I hope he is getting his own coaching with film.