Friday, January 23, 2015

Hoosiers ascending

So apparently Tom Crean can coach his way out of a paper bag. Who knew?

Who knew that the man slurred by his detractors as Coach Clappy would figure out a way to win with a bunch of guards and 'tweeners. In the Big Ten. In a country where, if you need a GPS to find the low blocks, they send you back to the frou-frou ACC.

Well. Later for that noise.

For now, it's time to stand and clap for Coach Clappy, last seen banging his mitts together as his Hoosiers obliterated No. 13 Maryland 89-70. Dropped nearly 90 and shot 60 percent, the Hoosiers did, against the best defensive team in the Big Ten. Knocked down 15 threes in 22 attempts, a ridiculous 68 percent clip. Got 24 from Yogi Ferrell and 22 from James Blackmon Jr., who combined for 10 of those threes.

Suddenly the Hoosiers -- who currently have no one on their roster taller than 6-7 -- are 15-4 overall and tied for first in the Big Ten with No. 5 Wisconsin. And they're doing it with a formula that turns everything you thought you knew about succeeding in the Big Ten inside-out and upside-down.

Simply put, they're doing it by outscoring people. By chuckin' it from the cheap seats, as the aptly named Shooter would say. By reaching back to their distant past and resurrecting the old Hurryin' Hoosiers meme -- of which Saint Bob of Knight once scuffed, in so many words, "The guy who came up with that is the biggest optimist in the world."

Meaning, of course, that you win with defense in the Big Ten. With the stop, not with the stop-and-pop. And you leave a mark or two doing it.

Crean can't do that with his roster, so he's figured out another way. It's not always going to work. Shooting being the fickle animal it is, there will be nights when the rock is a brick and the 3-point arc is closed for repairs. It might even happen Sunday at Ohio State, whom the Hoosiers have already taken down.

But attention must still be paid.  It must still be acknowledged that, with the exception of perhaps Wisconsin and Michigan State, there isn't anyone Indiana shouldn't be favored against down the road. And so the Hoosiers should at the very least be in the mix until the end -- a startling turn of affairs for a team picked to finish ninth in the preseason.

Crean deserves some credit for that. He deserves some respect. He may not be Saint Bob of Knight or Coach K or even that guy down in Lexington, but if this isn't the finest coaching job he's done since coming to Bloomington, it's at least in the team photo.

The detractors can call him Coach Clappy all they like. That's fine. It's Indiana. Detractors will always grow like velvet leaf there.

But right now, it's their applause that's warranted.

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