Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Expectation anticipation

And Tom Crean thought they warmed his chair with a flamethrower this past season.

Now comes the springtime of his true discontent, because the Coach Knight Would Never Have Lost That Game Nuclear Clock just ticked a second closer to midnight.  On the one hand, Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams are all coming back, to be joined by a legit big man (Thomas Bryant).  On the other hand ... Yogi, James and Troy are all coming back, to be joined by a legit big man (Bryant).

What that means is there again will be expectations in Bloomington this year, and this time they will be, you know, expectations. Plenty of IU fans called for Crean to be loaded into the tumbrel even this season, when he won 20 games with a team picked to finish ninth in the Big Ten, then outcoached Greg Marshall in a gritty NCAA Tournament loss to Wichita State. What's it going to be like next season, with the core of that team back and a platinum-grade presence on the blocks?

Already the Hoosiers are being picked to finish in the top four in the conference next season, and early polls have them ranked as high as 15th. Hopes are soaring. Excitement is building. Skepticism ("Let's see how Crean screws this up") is rampant.

Look. It's not like Tom Crean didn't know what it was going to be like when he arrived in B-town.   One of the reasons he got the job, after all, was because he instinctively understood what Indiana basketball means to its acolytes. And yet his continuing education since has been illuminating to say the least.

He got his first real taste of it after the top-seeded Hoosiers were bewitched by the Syracuse zone in the Sweet Sixteen in 2013, and it has never really abated through the two pale seasons since. The litany of complaints is long, but it can be crystallized into three essential points:

1. He's no Brad Stevens.

2. He's no Brad Stevens.

3. He's no Brad Stevens.

Stevens, of course, became everyone's darling  (and Crean's presumptive replacement) after he turned humble Butler into a national power. The problem is, he's, well, everyone's darling.

That includes his current employer, the Boston Celtics, who are surely not going to let him go anywhere after he took a team of spare parts to the playoffs and emerged as one of the brightest young minds in the NBA. To think he'd return now to Bloomington, even if the alumni ponied up a mountain of cash, is a fairy tale worthy of the Brothers Grimm -- and probably a few Grimm cousins to boot.

So Crean remains the man. And if the griping about him subsides a bit now, it's not as if it's wandered  very far off. The loudest sound in Assembly Hall next winter will be the collective tapping of 17,000 feet as the faithful wait for the Hoosiers to lose a game they believe a better X-and-O guy would have won.

Crean, of course, will profess not to hear it. But he'll know it's there, just as every IU coach who isn't Bob Knight will know it until the Hoosiers again cut down the nets on the first Monday in April.

The feet are tapping. The clock is ticking. Crean has to win now, and win a lot, because he'll again have a team capable of doing so -- and if that is his blessing, it is also his curse.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tick, tick, tick.

Strange how much alike they sound.


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