On Friday afternoon, Indiana faced off against Wichita State in the 2nd Round of this year's NCAA Tournament in a game that would set the winner up with Kansas following the Jayhawks' winning earlier in the day. On paper, the two teams were nearly even with the Shockers taking a slight edge in pre-game odds according to KenPom.
Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they ultimately fell to the Wichita State Shockers. Though Indiana was ahead for large segments of both the 1st Half and the 2nd Half, a late run by the Shockers put them in control and a late rally in response by Indiana fell short. Yogi Ferrell played extremely well and had 24 points, but it was the inability for the Hoosiers to consistently get stops on the defensive end that added up. The final score was Wichita State, 81-76.
Overall, this was an inconsistent season for Indiana. They had some really nice wins over teams like Butler, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, and SMU, but they also had some painful losses against teams like Eastern Washington and Northwestern, were swept by their arch-rival Purdue, and lost two back-to-back games against Iowa and Michigan State at home at the end of the regular season that at the time seemed like "must wins" for the team to make the NCAA Tournament. Of course, Indiana did make the final cut, but it was certainly one of the more stressful Selection Sundays for the Hoosier faithful. In recent years, it has been pretty obvious one way or the other whether the team was making an appearance, but this year, they were clearly a bubble team despite getting a #10 seed.
For some programs, this would be a great season. Some great wins, a win in the Big Ten Tournament, an NCAA Tournament appearance, and a good Tourney effort, despite a Round of 64 loss in the Big Dance. A lot of programs would take a lot of pride in that performance and this probably meets many of the preseason demands by Indiana fans, but we are talking about Indiana, where expectations are high and winning is expected.
During his seven year tenure at Indiana, Tom Crean is 121-111 and 49-77 in the Big Ten. Over that time, Crean has led the Hoosiers to three NCAA Tournament appearances, two Sweet Sixteen appearances, and one Big Ten title. Again, for a lot of programs, these numbers would be perfectly acceptable, but for Indiana, these numbers are nowhere near where most fans would hope and considering that virtually all of the team's substantial success under Crean came in 2 of his 7 seasons ('11-'12 & '12-'13), there are certainly some question marks.
Even take a look at this season. Given the roster and the lack of a true contributor at the 5 spot, it is difficult to think that any coach could have done that much more with this team, but given the fact that Crean has been with Indiana since 2008, it's also difficult to link that roster issue with anyone other than Crean. This season alone cannot tell the story of Crean's tenure in Bloomington, but the point here is that in year seven in his time with the program, it probably is realistic to expect a little more from a program with the rich history and talent base of Indiana.
Of course, there are also positives about Crean's tenure in Bloomington. When he took the job, the program was reeling with scholarship issues and he was faced with the challenge of essentially building a roster out of thin air. He also built two of the most exciting teams in the conference from 2011 to 2013, was able to field a relatively competitive team after suffering massive attrition last season, and led his team back to the NCAA Tournament this season despite lacking a true big man. He has also brought in some major talents the last few years and could be set up to land even more stars for next season upfront, where help is desperately needed.
The interesting thing about the Crean dilemma is that you could reasonably look at the situation and interpret it two different ways. Crean has shown the ability to not only build an NCAA Tournament team, but a true national contender loaded with NBA talent. However, on the other side, his results have been inconsistent on a yearly basis, the two teams that had national success still only made the Sweet Sixteen, and he is coaching at Indiana, where talent and recruiting should not be issues.
There are arguments on both sides, but the one point that really rings in this situation is the fact that Crean is coaching at Indiana. There is no way to quantify the advantages inherent to coaching at a blue blood program, but make no mistake that they exist. This certainly doesn't mean that things are given to programs like Indiana, but having that Indiana name on the recruiting trail and Assembly Hall for home games is a pretty substantial boost to any coach's chances at success. We can't put a price tag on what these mean, but it has to make you look at things differently.
There is no doubt that Tom Crean has done some great things for the Indiana program and took it out of one of its darkest times in its storied history, but at some point with a program like Indiana, that's just not good enough. He's turned Indiana into a decent team over the last few years, but again, at some point, it has to be more. It's like he was hired to turn a run down house into a mansion. He was able to build the foundation, but the time has come to add the master bedroom and the pool in the backyard.
Crean has certainly faced adversity during his tenure in Bloomington, but this is Year 7 and this is Indiana. Crean's resume with the Hoosiers may have met expectations for the vast majority of programs across the country, but he has fallen short in Bloomington. Perhaps he deserves one last shot at adding the finishing touches, but with the way things have gone over the last few years, it looks like it might be time to see if another person can finish the job.