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For Indiana, it comes down to this – win big, or else

Indiana coach Tom Crean reacts to a play during the Hoosiers' loss to Wisconsin in last Friday's Big Ten tourney in Washington D.C. (File photo by the Associated Press)
Indiana coach Tom Crean reacts to a play during the Hoosiers' loss to Wisconsin in last Friday's Big Ten tourney in Washington D.C. (File photo by the Associated Press)

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ONLINE: For more on sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Hoosiers have major issues to resolve

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 07:00 pm

So where does Indiana go after this 18-16 mess of a basketball season? For starters, it seems like coach Tom Crean is staying, which Hoosier Nation treats with the enthusiasm of a lobotomy.

Jobs open (can you say Washington and LSU?) and close (Cal’s Cuonzo Martin is reportedly heading to Missouri) and nothing is sure except the Cream ‘n Crimson masses scream for change.

Instead, they’ll get athletic director Fred Glass’s favorite program priority — stability.

In other words, no coaching change unless Crean leaves on his own.

Crean gives every indication that ain’t happening.

So there you go.

IU is forever the elite-program wanna be shuffling in the consistent shadows of North Carolina, Kansas, Duke and Kentucky.

Yes, the Hoosiers beat all three within the last year, but ultimately faded from postseason relevance.

This isn’t the first time this has happened.

It really needs to be the last.

Repeat as often as necessary.

Indiana has bumbled its way to an off-season of disarray. It basically threw away an almost sure NIT win over Georgia Tech because it didn’t want the perceived embarrassing specter of an ESPN-televised mostly empty Assembly Hall.

Really?

Then, of course, the Hoosiers threw away another victory with their usual assortment of mindless turnovers that demands some serious re-thinking of how to run an offense.

IU botched this season, and it had nothing to do with injuries.

Repeat:

It had nothing to do with injuries.

Yes, losing OG Anunoby and Collin Hartman to season-ending injuries ruined championship hopes. Nagging injuries to James Blackmon and Juwan Morgan didn’t help.

Still, there was enough talent and experience to win with, to finish in the upper half of a relatively weak Big Ten, make the NCAA tourney and perhaps win a game. All the Hoosiers had to do was play smart, efficient and mentally tough. If they had blocked out at crunch time, stayed with their men on defense and, in short, played like a team that did what was necessary to win rather than a group going through the motions, they’d still be playing under a NCAA tourney spotlight.

Ultimately, the blame is Crean’s, just as it is for every head coach. Last season he did perhaps the best coaching job of his career to lead the Hoosiers to the Big Ten title and a Sweet 16 appearance.

This year, well, it probably was his worst.

Yes, you can blame the players and their lack of leadership, but Crean recruited these guys. He has to do a better job of bringing in players who buy into his system, rather than just say they do.

Or change the system to suit the talent.

Purdue coach Matt Painter went through a similar phase a couple of years ago, and the result was consecutive losing records and a last-place Big Ten finish. He was one more bad season away from being fired.

Players transferred, which opened scholarships for Painter to land what is now the junior class. Vincent Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Isaac Haas and Dakota Mathias became the cornerstones of a turnaround that just produced a Big Ten title. They weren’t McDonald’s All-Americans, but they were skilled and resilient and team oriented.

In other words, Painter’s kind of guys.

To emphasis leadership and team building, Painter had the Boilers go through a weekend of modified Navy Seals training.

It was tough, and it worked.

Perhaps Crean needs to do the same thing.

On paper, IU returns everybody, but that might not happen. Players such as Thomas Bryant, James Blackmon and Anunoby will likely enter the NBA draft, which is the smart thing to do. NBA teams will offer feedback and they can decide whether to stay in the draft or go back to school.

Of course, they could also transfer.

So could others.

Crean now coaches under the recruiting handicap of only having three years left on his contract rather than the desired five, but Glass would have to be an idiot to give him an extension after this mess of a season.

Glass isn’t an idiot.

Crean will have to make it work.

As far as next season, Crean said after the Georgia Tech loss that, “We’ve got to get better with the ball and with the decision making. We’ve got to get stronger with the ball. We’ve got to get better with our finishing.

“The program is in great shape. The team has to get better.

“There’s so much good structure with what we have, but our team wasn’t where it needed to be. I don’t think you win two (Big Ten) championships in four years and not have a strong program.

“But facts are facts. Our team wasn’t as good. We’ve got to improve that. The guys coming back have to get better. The new guys we’ll get have to get better. I’ve got to get better. Everybody has to get better. That’s our plan.”

Here’s a better plan — consistently win to the level of IU’s tradition, or else.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.



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ONLINE: For more on sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

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