BLOOMINGTON — Indiana’s basketball buzz is down to this:
What’s going to happen with coach Tom Crean?
Will he go to Missouri?
Will he move on somewhere, anywhere, by his choice or by athletic director Fred Glass’s?
Will he stay?
Rumors multiply like weeds, sometimes acquiring Bigfoot-like fantasy. One included a supposed sighting on Tuesday of Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall at Bloomington’s airport, as if IU officials would bring him to town now for an interview while the Shockers prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
Here's a hint — no!
As far as the 17-14 Cream ‘n Crimson team that plays Iowa (18-13) Thursday night in the second-round of the Big Ten tourney in Washington D.C., well, apathy grows.
It is a season that, in so many ways, can’t end soon enough.
Welcome to the consequences of overwhelming under-achievement, big-time wins over Kansas and North Carolina be darned. Nobody buys excuses of injuries and youth, which cost the Hoosiers a championship shot, but not a season that reflects an elite heritage.
They have talent, but not focus. They have experience, but not execution. All too often they are crunch-time bumblers playing just well enough to lose close. They refuse to take care of the ball. They alternate from strong defenders to lousy ones, sometimes in the same possession. They rush into disaster because patience and decision making are not strengths. Player leadership is a myth.
Oh, center Thomas Bryant continues to spend way too much time on the perimeter rather than in the post.
That could change, of course. Robert Johnson could sustain his Ohio State dominance. Bryant and James Blackmon could play to their All-Big Ten capabilities. Others such as forward Juwan Morgan, guard Josh Newkirk, center De’Ron Davis, guard Devonte Green and even Mr. Hustle Zach McRoberts could be difference makers, as they have at times this season. The Hoosiers could, finally, perform to their potential in perhaps the nation’s most wide-open major conference tournament.
IU’s only shot at making the NCAA tourney is to win four games and the Big Ten Tournament championship. It has never won this event in 19 previous tries. There’s little reason to think this group will make history.
If the 10th-seeded Hoosiers get past Iowa, they would face second-seed Wisconsin, a team they beat about as often as Chuck Crabb doesn’t announce an IU home game. After that looms potential showdowns with No. 3 seed Maryland and top-seed Purdue.
Indiana is 0-4 against those teams.
But we digress.
This is not the same Iowa squad that lost to something called Nebraska-Omaha 97-89 in non-conference play.
It beat IU in overtime in Iowa City, then stunned Maryland and Wisconsin on the road. It split games with Big Ten champ Purdue.
The Hawkeyes found their perimeter shooting down the stretch. In their last three games, they were 37-for-66 from three-point range, a blistering 56.1 percent.
Reserve forward Nicholas Baer has been especially impressive from long range. He was 4-for-5 on threes at Wisconsin. He was 4-for-4 in the regular-season-ending win over Penn State. Then there’s starting guard Jordan Bohannon, who had eight three-pointers against Maryland.
Don’t forget Big Ten scoring champ Peter Jok, who averages 20.2 points while leading the conference in free throw shooting. He burned the Hoosiers for 35 points last month, including 22-for-23 from the line.
“We're going to be playing one of the most dangerous teams, not only in the league but in the country,” Crean says.
“They're shooting the ball at an incredible rate.”
Iowa is among the nation’s youngest teams. It starts three freshmen, and eight of its top nine players are in their first or second seasons. Jok is the only senior.
Despite the youth, the Hawkeyes improved as the season went on, something IU painfully did not. The Hoosiers almost certainly will miss the NCAA tourney for the second time in four years.
That’s a problem.
Crean has won without delivering the Final Fours and national titles Hoosier Nation craves. More and more it looks like he never will.
That’s a bigger problem.
For many, it trumps the three Sweet 16 appearances, the two Big Ten titles, last year’s win over Kentucky and the Big Ten coach of the year award, the lack of NCAA scandal, bringing the program back from the Kelvin Sampson-generated abyss and the fact IU players not only graduate, but usually do so early.
So the focus stays on Missouri, where Crean is a reported top candidate along with coaches such as Cuonzo Martin of Cal, Brad Underwood of Oklahoma State and Lorenzo Lomar of Washington.
It could be a big-time job that generates big-time results for the right guy, and in so many ways, Crean is that guy — a proven winner who knows how to resurrect a program.
For now, nothing is sure but this — it’s March and there is no Indiana basketball buzz as there is for North Carolina, Kansas, Duke and, yes, Purdue.
That’s the biggest problem of all.
This column is the commentary of the writer and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Pete DiPrimio at firstname.lastname@example.org
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