A plea for perspective (Digger Phelps agrees)

  • 01/19/2010 12:58 pm in

Ever feel like you really want to have a conversation with someone, but you’re not sure exactly how what you have to say will go over, so you spend time fretting over how to say it and what their reaction will be and so forth?

No? Well, I have. And the time has come for me to just get it out there. If you like it, take it. If you don’t just send it right back:

Indiana fans, stop being so hard on this team.

I know, I sound like a huge homer, and I can clearly see why it would come across that way. But the fact is that too many of the good folks in Hoosier Nation set the bar impossibly high for this basketball season, whether consciously or otherwise. (Seriously, someone had to say it, so I figured it might as well be me, because well, people hate gingers anyway.)

Look, I know last season was hard on you, I get that. Watching a once-proud program stagger and stumble its way to six wins in 31 tries isn’t an easy sight to swallow when it’s happening in front of five national championship banners. And yes, this team is markedly more talented, and deeper in almost every feasible way.

But it’s not just about talent, which this team has in good — but not great — supply. It’s about experience, and poise, and focus, and composure. None of those traits will magically blanket this team after one or two wins, no matter the quality of the opponent. They take time and patience to build, like a homemade car or a rare stamp collection.

Look, Digger Phelps agrees with me.

“The way that thing was left in shambles, you’ve just got to be patient,” Phelps said by phone last week. (Like how I snuck that up on you? Gingers aren’t well-liked, but we’re crafty.)

Phelps, an analyst for ESPN and a former coach at Notre Dame, is no stranger to the rigors of building a successful program and gives Tom Crean high marks for his work since arriving in Bloomington. Phelps says Crean had to “start from scratch.”

That’s a term I understand many have grown weary of — “from scratch.” The constant reminders about youth and inexperience on this team follow the Hoosiers everywhere, and there are those among you that believe it is too often used as a crutch, an out to excuse even the poorest play. But I’m not so sure that’s true.

After the Michigan game in Ann Arbor — the first IU game I have had the opportunity to see in person this season — Tom Crean appeared equal parts subdued and frustrated.

For the first time in almost two years, Crean appeared (to me, anyway) as though, for lack of a better term, even he didn’t know it would be this bad. Hours after the Michigan loss, he launched into one of his now-customary Twitter rolls, in which he acknowledged many of the Hoosiers’ deficiencies and talked about the mental state of the team.

“These guys want to be good. We have to find our way,” he said via Twitter. “It’s very challenging but it’s coming. I feel a bounce on the way. Help us push through.”

That “bounce” proved to be prophetic, as the Hoosiers upset Minnesota in overtime, and it bears pointing out that they did it coming from behind, when last season’s team probably would have folded. (Can we also give this team some credit for their work without Maurice Creek? I mean, take Scottie Reynolds off Villanova or Luke Harangody off Notre Dame and imagine the result.)

Of course, there are also going to be nights when Indiana gets played off the court. Inexperience does that.

“The guys that are juniors and seniors,” Phelps said, “they’re just going to dominate underclassmen.”

It’s just a reality of college basketball, one that probably means losses to the likes of Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois and even Northwestern are on the horizon.

The process is longer than anyone probably expected, because what yardstick could we ever have used to measure the totality of this task when it began? But according to at least one basketball expert, things are headed in the right direction.

“A force in the Big Ten,” Phelps sad. “That’s where I see Indiana in two years.”

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  • MillaRed

    Great post Smitty. Why anyone would get so worked up over a criticism of the coach they belittle the authors is kinda uncalled for IMO. Why would anyone take something so personally when we don't even know each other?

    There certainly is some knee-jerking going on it's human nature folks. As I have mentioned all along the few little things that have bothered me:

    The seemingly lack of work on Rivers jump shot after an entire off-season
    The horrible completely unforced turnovers
    The substitution patterns on occasion
    The free throw percentages

    Many seem to attribute all of the above to youth. I guess that will have to do for now.

    No doubt am I happy where we are headed. However, I'm just not going to sit back and give Coach or any player a free pass solely based on inexperience. We can always get better regardless of our record.

  • oldiugymnast

    Smitty, I just don't get all the negativity you are sending out into the universe. The coach knows more about basketball in his pinky finger than you and I know if we spent the rest of the month trying to think up every single thing we know about Basketball. And I took Coach Knight's class! I don't think he has the personnel to run the offense you think he should. I see lots of progress every game, including the losses. As a guy who coached a different sport at a very high level (good enough to put 12 different guys into full scholarships) I can tell you that as a coach, you will do things that others, including coaches, won't understand. Why? Because you know the kid. You know what makes them tick, what makes them confident and what makes them piss their pants. Sure, basketball doesn't include fear of dying like my sport, but I am sure that there are lots of little personality things that make for decisions that you couldn't possible understand. I am not going to second guess a coach who has beaten two very good teams, and been in the game with 3 others. Sure, they loose some games they shouldn't, but I think that is part of learning and part of life. Nobody learns to succeed without failing.

  • Walton

    A couple more recruiting classes along with the experience of the current players and IU will be back to 20 win seasons or close to it. Along with more wins will come even better recruiting (and expect to see some good indiana players on that list). With that will come deep runs in the tournament. Crean is young and will be around for some time (thanks again Crean for coming to IU – the majority of us love – love your decision). As in all sports people take ONE year (or a couple) way too seriously. Come on – we all know time flies by anymore – unfortunately two or three years from now will seem like they flew by – and by that time IU will be back and I feel confident in saying we will not be losing very many games (and especially none at home). GO HOOSIERS!

  • Uncle_Kerfuffle

    All the posts this season about CTC’s deficiencies as a floor coach brought back to mind something I either heard or read as a response by Quinn Buckner to the question of just how good were the 1975 and 1976 Hoosier teams. I’m going to paraphrase his response and will gladly stand corrected if I get it wrong.

    Buckner (I think he was playing for the Celtics at the time) said that those two teams were so good that when Coach Knight made a mistake in coaching, they could cover up those mistakes by either their talent or by Buckner telling the team to do something else once they left the huddle.

    There is no way for any of us except those who were on that team to know if what Buckner said was accurate but I think the point is that all coaches make mistakes, those with very talented teams get away with them many times. Those with less talent are not as fortunate.

    Assuming this is a reasonably accurate account from those early “glory days”, our current edition of the IU Hoosiers is not at the talent level of those great mid-1970s teams. With that said, I believe Coach Crean is the right man for the job just as I was sure that Coach Knight was the right man for the job in the early 70s.

  • HoosierSmitty

    My post was negative? I'd hate to think what you consider some of the other posts on here!

  • hoosierdaddynow

    Blind squirrels and nuts, etc., etc. Look, I like Digger, but I don't consider him an “expert”, that's all. So, no, I jest not.

  • hoosierdaddynow

    And all God's children said, “Amen”.

  • JerryCT

    I agree with the post. I love the coach and the players. I care more about competing hard than W's…………….But many of us have questions that sportswriters do not ask and we come here to search for answers among our colleagues at ITH.

    I read Crean's explanantion of how they develop foul shooting skills and now I take that off my list. He is not the next Jim Boeheim on free throw shooting.

    Nevertheless I see no reason not to continue with questions of the coach ( not his skills as a coach ) such as:

    1) lack of movement on offense in the 1/2 court such that we go deep into the clock
    2) no off ball screens ……ever….not even for Watford
    3) shaky inbounds plays
    4) zone defense that puts Hulls or DUmes defending 6'11″ centers under the basket
    5) should Rivers play under the basket more when Hulls, Jones are in the game

    None of these questions have anything to do with youth, talent, Creek, Roth, upperclassmen, or any other excuse we have. They are questions that many folks construe as criticisms of the coach's skills.

    ” if you don't know where you are going any road will get you there”.

  • HoosierSmitty

    I could be way off on this one, but I think the core of much of the frustration is that people are beginning to believe the rebuilding process is going to take longer than we hoped. That's what gets me on the ledge, but thankfully I'm slowly stepping back off it.

    Fans look at the current recruiting classes and think “man, if we don't get this guy or that guy or another big or the aliens from Space Jam” that we aren't going to be successful.

    When I take a step back and think about Coach Crean, can you imagine another coach handling this situation as well as he has? A lot of us out there have experience either as coaches or players in losing prograrms. It's tough, it stinks, and it's hard to suck it up, clap your hands, and get after it every day. Coach Crean does, and I know that's not easy. As a result, his players give it 100% every night, even if they do make some silly mistakes at times.

    Like many Hoosiers, I live and die with this program, and this is just one wild rollercoaster ride. I'm sure I'll be ready to backflip off the edge again, but for now I'm keeping it all perspective and enjoying the exrtra tastes of success we've had this season.

  • GFDave

    A lot of very balanced and thoughtful posts here. That's why I keep coming back.

  • If we lose in OT against Minnesota everyone on this blog is crying. But… We didn't lose. We won, and I think it is the tipping point for the entire hoosiers season. We finally realized we can impose our will on the boards, VJ3 is the go to guy in the clutch, hulls, rivers, dumes, capo.. it's all good guys – let's get a win in Penn State against a team that hasn't been able to get over the hump – we gotta get one back on the road this week.

    by the way christian is on his way to big ten freshman of the year – leads in scoring and boards i believe.

  • Taskmaster75

    Indeed, Creek could leave for the NBA by his junior year and be a 1st rounder easy.

  • GFDave

    Just ran across this interview vid with Sheehey. This kid has a lot going for him. Sorry if already posted.



    GF Dave

    Great find. I feel like I got a better understanding of him from this interview more than maybe any others that I have seen. You can sometines tell just as much about a player when they talk about more than bball than you can when they speak only about bball.

  • HoosierSmitty

    Agreed, and I have to call myself out on this one…I probably would have been in the “everyone” group. Perspective is tough…but necessary.

  • Brian Evans

    ok, ive been critical of crean this season on this blog. perhaps too critical at times. ill defend myself now. the question here is of what expectations are realistic. last season all I wanted to see was to see a team hustle and play with pride. they did that and i thought it was one of the best seasons if indiana basketball since 01-02 simply for this reason alone: they exceeded expectations. I honestly don't know how that team last year kept fighting, and I attribute alot of it to creans skills as a coach and motivator.

    this season, with a top ten recruiting class, we actually have good enough players to begin analyzing the teams play with more depth. How is their shot selection? What type of shots do they get out of an offense? How is their defensive positioning? Their decision making? Or even their attitude on the court? Obviously, I don't expect to see these things completely resolved because some good highschool players came to indiana. They need to develop and be molded as players and as a team. However, I do think indiana fans should begin talking about how the team is playing with a more critical eye. And I do expect to see improvement in these problem areas.

    At this point, I still don't care about wins and losses, I care about how the team plays. We were lucky to sneak out the win against MN, we might get unlucky and lose a nailbiter against Northwestern, I don't care. We aren't going to the tournament, all I am looking at is how the team plays. I see improvements in some areas and a lack of improvement in others. Why can't i voice those on this sight without being slandered as a knight fanatic or old-fogie? I honestly don't think it is too soon to expect this team to play good helpside defense (cf watford at the end of the IL game if you want a good example of what i am talking about). Maybe it is too soon for Crean to have instilled this skill in his players, feel free to tell me that if i criticize something about this team that you think is unjustified. But it must be at least worth voicing on this site, because if the hoosiers don't improve on their defense (and they have already this season) more they will never go deep into the tourney in the future. As fans, we should be noticing these things and keeping an eye on them. Why do I have to wait for crean to coach this team for 3 years until I can criticize him as a coach for not instilling x fundamental skill or for running an offense that doesn't create good shots?

    The other thing that makes no sense to me is that whenever IU wins people say I told you so and hate on those voicing criticism, like we dont want the team to win, or dont want crean to be a good coach. There are few things I like to see more than the indiana hoosiers playing good basketball and winning, and I definitely hope TC is our coach of the future. I hope and think he can remedy the things i criticize him about.

    I think is bad is to muzzle the intelligent voices of IU fans. I believe that IU fans have as good a basketball IQ as any fans in the country. I believe we appreciate good basketball more than any fanbase in the country, hence, so much opposition to the prostyle offense, etc. I enjoy reading this site because of their insights into how the team plays, what they are doing well, and what they could do better. i think it is a tragedy to lose those high expectations on the level of play simply because of this horrible situation. in my mind, the best way to keep that tradition of excellence alive is to compare where we are now with where we hope do be. that task, at whatever point of IU basketball history (outside of 74-76) involves criticism.

    Basically, my point is that it isn't unrealistic to expect this team, right now, to be taking good shots on offense, to be playing good team defense. free throws might be a stretch. and turnovers might be unrealistic as well for so young a team. but lets debate those things on this sight, instead of ruling out negativity and criticism all-together.

  • CutterInChicago

    I am here for you kesims… however, my schedule for that weekend is truly dicey at present (and it does not help that its also Super Bowl Sunday) if things clear up for me, I'd love to go.

  • CutterInChicago

    I watched K-State v Texas and K-State is not average. They have serious size underneath and athleticism. That game was also interesting because Knight was the color guy and he was saying things that any basketball fan would appreciate (i.e. that K-State was just standing around on offense in the 2nd half). Texas is talented but they are the classic Rick Barnes squad of talent as opposed to fundamentals (i.e. the poor man's Calipari)

  • CutterInChicago

    Agreed. This has been one of the better threads IMHO.

  • kesims

    yes i realized after i posted that this is super sunday. The game is at 1 o' clock our time time so it would be over by 3 giving us 4 hrs til the superbowl…… i did get two tickets for $70 …so I have an extra center court ticket for $35 if your schedule clears up otherwise i'll be that guy in a red shirt by himself screaming in the middle of a crowd of northwestern fans..but right now im just hoping the colts make it so i can possibly see a big road win and a colts superbowl win all in the same day…what a great day that would be….let me know if schedule clears up

  • MillaRed

    Ditto Brian. What else can you possibly say? We are Crean fans. WE ARE CREAN FANS!

    Hopefully no one has to defend a Crean critique on ITH when someone asks why the team commits 6 turnover's in 3 minutes in the 25th game of the season.

    CTC is human, will make good and bad decisions, and will be applauded and questioned as needed just like every other coach in the country. Just because he wears an IU sweater doesn't make him untouchable (sorry RMK fans).

    We love you Coach. Keep on doing your thing!

  • Wait, he wears an IU sweater?

  • MillaRed

    Figuratively Alex. Figuratively. If he doesn't have one in the closet I would be surprised BTW.

    Are you joining the “Don't ever criticize Coach Crean” ranks?

  • Are you the real Brian Evans that I once witnessed you pop your shoulder back into place. Yeah I was 10 years old and to this day my dad and I say that was the gutsiest thing we have ever seen. We sat second row for every home game that year.

    95-96 we thank and salute you man!

  • dabig

    In general, I agree with you, Jerry. I think the team lacks an offensive “philosophy.” But, I didn't think they had a defensive philosophy until the last few games, and things seem to be improving on defense. On the other hand, some of these guys, especially Dumes, still need much more structure, and I'm not sure why they don't seem to be getting that from the coaches. On the other hand, I have five fingers.

  • Uncle_Kerfuffle


    Sounds like you may be the guy to ask this question of. I suspect that Sheehey is a sleeper that the fans are going to fall in love with. In order to have some point of reference, how does he compare, say, to Luke Recker (sp). He seems to be similar in build and jumping ability.

    If not Recker, who might you compare him to?

  • GFDave

    I can't say I know enough about the kid to say draw comparisons to any IU players of the past. At his size and position you start thinking Randy Wittman and Luke Recker. One can only hope he plays at that sort of level.