While not as disappointing as last season, many Indiana fans are still not satisfied with a season that resulted in a first round exit from the NCAA Tournament after the Hoosiers were awarded their first ever double digit seed. Indiana fans only care about National Titles - and while that may be absurd given where the program is today and the fact they haven't won a title in 28 years - the fan base is still in the mindset that they are a Top 5 program. If Indiana is going to regain that status among the rest of the world over the course of the next few years, these next few weeks are going to play a very important role.
The First Move
The first move was made yesterday with the announcement of Stanford Robinson's transfer (assuming you don't count Assistant Steve McClain's departure to become the head coach at UIC). While Stan was quoted after the loss to Wichita State last week saying "he would definitely be back" - this transfer comes as zero surprise to anyone. Robinson had seen his minutes greatly decrease from 16.9 to 11.4 per game. While having a lot of promising moments during his freshman year, - he had a very up and down off-season including having a great performance in Canada, switching his shooting hand, and finally being suspended for the first four games due to a drug related issue. His minutes were reduced partly due to incoming guards James Blackmon Jr. and starting almost every game this season. However, they were also reduced due to his inability to make shots as his shooting percentage dropped from 44.8% to 33.0% this season.
This transfer doesn't have a whole lot of meaning for Indiana. It does hurt their defense slightly as Robinson was known as one of the better defensive players on the roster. At times he was the best post defender Indiana had - even at just 6'4". He did a tremendous job on A.J. Hammons and that versatility & intensity will be missed. However, the Hoosiers are loaded at the wing position and are bringing in more height next year to help with that post defense. The biggest accomplishment of this transfer for Indiana is that it now has freed up a spot for one of the two incoming recruits - Juwan Morgan or O.G. Anunoby.
The Next Move(s)?
As I mentioned, Robinson's transfer only makes enough room for one of the two incoming recruits. So someone else will be exiting the program to make room for the other and if Coach Crean lands 2015 4 Star Center Thomas Bryant like many predict at this point- a third player will be leaving from the current roster. So who else is going to depart?
If I had that answer - I would certainly tell you. There are a lot of scenarios that could occur. Kevin Yogi Ferrell and/or Troy Williams could decide they have had enough and jump to the next level although it seems unlikely at this point given both are projected as mid second round picks which means no guaranteed money. Ferrell will graduate after this semester and also have the option to transfer to another school and play immediately. If he decides his prospects at winning a title are higher at another school - you can't really blame him for making that move. If the Hoosiers can land a big man in Bryant - that would obviously help in keeping Yogi around as a quality big man could take this team into major contender status overnight.
The other and more plausible option is one or two more players are going to find a new home via a normal transfer and sit out next season. There are certainly 3-4 candidates that would seem like reasonable choices. I am not going to detail those names here as that is extremely counterproductive, but I think most people that follow the program closely have at least a couple of those names in mind. For Indiana to move through the current crossroads in their program's stature- they have to avoid one of the key cogs transferring this off-season (Ferrell, Blackmon Jr, Williams, and Johnson).
Head Coach Move?
Speculation has swirled nationally around the status of Indiana Coach Tom Crean for about a month now and you could argue that same speculation has swirled around certain circles of the Indiana fan base for a long time. While the Hoosiers, who were picked to finish 10th place by most preseason publications, had a generally successful season in comparison to those predictions - it just simply isn't enough for the Hoosier fans who still think they are a Top 5 program. As I wrote last summer, I feel like the fan base was 50/50 entering the season as far as supporters versus detractors of Coach Crean. After 10 losses in the final 15 games this season - that number may have moved significantly in the detractors favor.
So as Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star has already pointed out - what does Fred Glass see this program as? Does he see the same thing many of the fans believe they are seeing - that Indiana's national relevance (and local relevance for that matter) is quickly waning and is in need of rejuvenation? Or does he take a risk and go against what seems to be a heavy majority of the fan base and give Crean one more year to prove he can get the job done at Indiana?
The decision could have massive implications for years to come. If Crean returns and is able to land Thomas Bryant - I wouldn't be surprised to see this team ranked in the Top 15 in the preseason with a real chance of making a run. However, if they don't meet those high expectations or he isn't even able to land Bryant and they either miss the NCAA Tournament or exit in an early round again - it will almost certainly be the end of the road for Crean at Indiana. The State of Indiana is loaded with talent in 2016 and 2017 and bringing in a new coach that close to those classes could have a devastating impact on the future of the program.
You also have to consider what coaches would be willing to come to Indiana. Does anyone out there still consider this to be a destination job? Many in the fan base continue to dream about Brad Stevens - and that simply isn't going to happen. And what other big name coach is going to risk everything to come to a job where the fan base just got done running off a coach that went to the tournament 3 out of 4 years, went to 2 Sweet 16's, and was ranked #1 in the country for the majority of one of those years? In addition, anyone besides Brad Stevens is going to be continually overshadowed by the portion of the fan base that wants nothing to do with any coach outside of Stevens. It is really a no win situation for everyone involved.
I don't believe this will drag out any longer than the Final Four in Indianapolis. Sometime between now and then or even during the Final Four, I fully expect Fred Glass to come out and say he is either parting ways with Coach Crean or he is sticking with him. Staying quiet in this situation is only going to further rile up the fan base and keep speculation swirling which is not going to help recruiting at all - especially the recruitment of a certain 4 Star Center. The program's near future and long term future seem like they could be on the line in these next few weeks. Whether Indiana fans want to believe it or not - their standing as a prominent basketball program is waning and the decisions about to occur are going to potentially impact that result in a major way.