Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A few thoughts on ins ... and outs

And so the long knives come out, as another shot goes clang and Assembly Hall morphs into Assembly Oh, Hell. Iowa pulls away. Indiana fades. Oops, there goes another happy wanderer, striking tin and then spinning away.

And that rumble you hear in the background?

The twittersphere. Blowing up.

It's Iowa 77, Indiana 63, in the Hall, and the twittersphere (or at least a segment of it) is baying for Tom Crean's head again. It is the interwhatsis at its best, channeling instant judgment without the gentling filter of perspective. Fan bases -- particularly the intensely rabid ones, of which Indiana's stands front and center -- have always been fickle. But now fickle has a megaphone.

Here's what you do with that megaphone this morning: Put it down and step away slowly.

Put it down, step away, and come back for a second to November, before the Hoosiers were 19-10, 9-8 in the Big Ten and losers of seven of their last 11 games. Indiana was 0-0 then, and it was given zero chance to finish any higher than ... what was it? Ninth in the Big Ten?

Now, even after losing two straight in the Hall and three of their last four, the Hoosiers are seventh. They're one W away from 20 wins. And they're still what everyone thought they were in November: A team with no size playing in conference where size is paramount.

If someone had given Hoosier Nation 20 wins out of that team then, would it have taken it?

Hell, yes. And it would have thrown a parade for its architect.

Now it still wants to throw him a parade, only instead of Tom Crean on a float, some of the fanatics want Tom Crean strapped to a rail as the parade heads out of town.

Well. Bad news, children. That's not gonna happen.

It's not gonna happen because the last 11 games were preceded by 19 that were all but sublime. Six weeks ago, Crean's sawed-off runts were 15-4 and 5-1 in the Big Ten. They'd just crushed Maryland by 19. They were a contender, and people were saying this was Tom Crean's finest coaching job. People were saying he might be the coach of the year in the Big Ten.

I know. I was one of those people.

So what happened?

The season happened. The Big Ten is a pitiless grind even if you have size, and if you don't -- and if you're leaning hard on a couple of freshmen to boot -- stuff happens. Shots that dropped earlier in the season stop dropping. Legs get heavier. Suddenly a team that shot 60 percent against Maryland is shooting 38 percent against Iowa, and that same team is no longer the lock for the NCAA Tournament it was six week ago.

The straight skinny: Indiana must play its way in now. Because across the last 11 games, it's played its way out.

Crean, however, is in no matter which way it goes. The body of work will save him. The shallow pool of realistic candidates to replace him -- candidates who'd have won more games and accomplished more with this particular group -- will save him. And the virtues of  continuity will save him.

Something to consider: If you dump Crean  now, you're on to your fourth coach in 15 years. You start over yet again. And you likely start over with less of a marquee name than you imagine, because to be brutally honest, Indiana is simply not the job it used to be. You can't just throw open the doors anymore and expect the next Mike Krzyzewski to walk through them.

All of that undoubtedly carries great weight with Indiana athletic director Fred Glass, who has been very public about how much he values continuity and the long view. The last 11 games notwithstanding, Crean has done nothing that would persuade Glass to change his mind about that.  And so he'll be on the bench again next November.

Let the twittersphere howl on.


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