Welcome to “That’s A Wrap,” our recap of the 2012-2013 Indiana Hoosiers. Today: Head coach Tom Crean.
Tom Crean knew the Indiana job would be a challenge when he accepted it some five years ago. He had to rebuild the program from the very bottom, and he successfully restored it to a place where the Hoosiers could be the No. 1 ranked team in the preseason.
What Crean has accomplished has been truly remarkable and praiseworthy. But the difficulty of the head job in Bloomington didn’t end when Crean got the top recruits to start coming to town or when he built a team that earned a No. 1 seed this season. Crean dealt with a number of different challenges this season.
The most difficult one was expectations. The Hoosiers had plenty of them this season, and they sometimes struggled to handle and live up to those lofty expectations. They were expected to win, and when their season ended early with a Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse in Washington D.C., it was viewed by some as a disappointment.
Indiana accomplished some great things this season. It won a Big Ten title outright for the first time in 20 years. Beat Michigan twice. Beat Michigan State twice. Won at Ohio State. Earned a No. 1 seed. Reached the Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive year. But the Hoosiers didn’t win it all, and when you play or coach at a school that has hung five banners, championships become the standard to which you are held.
In some ways, Crean handled the expectations well. He did numerous national radio and television interviews in which he was charismatic and engaging. He continued to develop his players throughout the season and constantly reminded the media that the team hadn’t accomplished anything because of its preseason ranking.
Those close to Cody Zeller said they didn’t know what his decision would be in the days following Indiana’s season-ending loss to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. His older brother Tyler, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was even asked about it before Tuesday night’s game against the Pacers.
But in reality, Zeller kind of knew all along. It’s time to go to the next level.
“After awhile, you just kind of know,” Zeller said at a press conference in Assembly Hall on Wednesday afternoon. “I kind of knew, barring a serious injury, that this might be my last year.”
And so you have it. The young man who helped bring Indiana basketball back will forego his final two college seasons and enter June’s NBA Draft. He joins teammate Victor Oladipo, who declared for the draft on Tuesday.
“I know what we’re losing,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said, “I’ve got the stat sheets. But I don’t dwell on that. People were really looking forward to the opportunity to come play with Cody and win with Cody, and that’s exactly what they did.”
Zeller is projected by many experts to be a lottery pick, though his stock has slipped some from the beginning of the season. Zeller averaged 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for the Hoosiers last season.
When he told his teammates about his decision to declare, Zeller said they weren’t surprised.
It was the right decision, and it came as little surprise. But nevertheless, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo officially announced on Tuesday afternoon that he will forgo his senior season and enter the 2013 NBA Draft on June 27.
“I swayed back and forth, especially throughout the season,” Oladipo said at a press conference on the Assembly Hall floor. “I just felt like this is what was best for my family.
“I’ll always be a Hoosier until the day I die.”
Oladipo, a first team All-American, is projected to be a lottery pick by nearly every NBA draft expert, and is currently No. 5 in Chad Ford’s latest mock draft for ESPN. He will graduate with a bachelor’s degree on May 4, his 21st birthday.
“I truly support what he’s doing,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “There’s no question that he’s got the physical abilities, the mental capacity, maturity and focus, the emotional well being and spiritual background to go put himself in the position to take this next step.”
There’s no doubt the Hoosiers take a hit because of Oladipo’s decision. He, along with Cody Zeller, played a large role in helping Indiana return to the elite level. It will be impossible to replace him on next year’s team.
But what should not be lost in all of this is the way in which Oladipo accomplished what he did. He did it the right way. He came in as an under-recruited athlete, worked tirelessly, became a basketball player, grew into a leader, earned his degree, and then left.
Over the years, college basketball seems to have gone in the wrong direction. But in almost every way, Oladipo represents what is still right about the college game.
When Indiana lost in last Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen game against Syracuse, the naysayers came back out in full force. Many commenters and some national voices criticized the way IU’s season ended after the Hoosiers failed to advance farther than a season ago.
Indiana athletic director Fred Glass hears all that chatter. He spent a good portion of his interview with Inside the Hall on Thursday night talking about the things that have been said and defending Tom Crean, even when he wasn’t asked to do so.
“He won the Big Ten title by beating Michigan twice and Michigan State twice,” Glass said. “Tom Crean coached the heck out of that game at Michigan, including a great coaching job down the stretch. We exorcised a lot of demons for people who said we couldn’t win on the road, Cody [Zeller] wasn’t the go-to guy, this or that. And I thought we established Victor Oladipo as the Big Ten Player of the Year. Trey Burke’s a great player, but I thought Victor sealed being the Big Ten Player of the Year, and I sure as heck thought Tom Crean sealed being Big Ten Coach of the Year. Great respect for Bo Ryan, but I thought that win sealed Tom winning that. But you control what you can control.”
In some ways, the Hoosiers underperformed in the NCAA Tournament. They were a No. 1 seed, after all, making them the favorites to make this weekend’s Final Four in Atlanta. They missed open shots. They struggled to attack the zone. They couldn’t stop Michael Carter-Williams.
But in other ways, they ran into one of the nation’s hottest teams. Look at what Syracuse did to Marquette in the Elite Eight (and the Golden Eagles should be used to that zone).
Either way, there’s no denying the fact Indiana accomplished a great deal this season. The year may have ended early than expected, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good one.
WASHINGTON — Jordan Hulls sat at his locker room in the Verizon Center, tears welling to his eyes when asked questions about the season and about his special senior class.
For four years, Hulls had dreamed of the opportunity he and his teammates had in front of them. They were a No. 1 seed, a favorite to reach the Final Four in Atlanta. All this after beginning from the very bottom with the NCAA Tournament a mere pipe dream.
This wasn’t supposed to end so soon. This was Indiana’s Dream Team, one constructed with so much talent and chemistry, it may never be replicated by Tom Crean and his staff. You can recruit all the top 50 players you want, but you can’t make them like each other and play together the way these guys did. There will never be an Indiana team quite like this again.
Crean and his staff know that, which is what made this one hurt more than most. The Indiana coaching staff remained in the Verizon Center locker room until after 2 a.m., and the team bus didn’t pull out of the arena until 2:21 a.m.
“There are no words to describe how I feel,” junior guard Victor Oladipo said after Indiana’s 61-50 loss to Syracuse in the Sweet 16. “I love playing with these guys. I’ll never forget this team for as long as I live.”
He should remember the good moments from this season. This team has earned that. Wins at Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. A Big Ten outright championship. Two All-Americans. A No. 1 seed. A second straight trip to the Sweet 16.
But, fair or not, the loss to Syracuse will probably always stick to the memories of the Indiana players the most. It was an opportunity missed, it turned an otherwise terrific season into a giant disappointment. The Hoosiers went to the Sweet 16 last year. This year, they needed to go further. They should have gone further.
“It’s over,” Hulls said, his voice cracking. “It’s just tough. We prepared so hard, we just didn’t go out there and execute like we needed to. It’s a terrible way to go out.”
All week long, we talked and heard about the challenge of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. The Hoosiers seemed confident on Wednesday, acting like they were prepared for the unique defense they would see.
But they were not. Twelve turnovers in the first half told you that. As hard as they may have prepared for Jim Boeheim’s team, they didn’t know and never did figure out how to attack and score against the zone.
“They’re length is not really something you can practice against,” Hulls said. “We turned the ball over, didn’t hit shots. We were overthinking, didn’t quite know what we wanted to do at certain times.”
The Hoosiers made a run in the second half — they got it to within six points at one point — but they couldn’t sustain it for a fairly simple reason: They didn’t make shots. To beat the Syracuse zone, you have to make some perimeter shots to loosen it up. Indiana was 3-of-15 from beyond the arc.
WASHINGTON — Tom Crean, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo met with the media following Indiana’s 61-50 loss to Syracuse in the East regional semifinal. Read comments from their postgame reaction below.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Indiana, student athletes Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller and Coach Tom Crean. We will start with an opening statement from Coach Tom Crean.
COACH CREAN: Well, we have had a heck of a ride with this group, and it doesn’t feel like that tonight, won’t feel like that for a couple of days, maybe longer.
But the bottom line is that this program has come from so far and I hope at some point in time, the seniors, the guys on this team will remember that they did things that hadn’t been done first off in 20 years at Indiana but more importantly there are not any programs, whether this be Syracuse, Kentucky, Carolina, Duke, you name it that are the blue blood programs of the country that have had to endure what these guys have had to endure. They have done it with perseverance, toughness, and improvement and they have done it with great class and they will all be better for it.
That’s how I view it. Our minds are around closure right now, they’re not. So we have to look at it that way. The story of the game for us is we didn’t take care of the ball enough. We gave them too many opportunities. We did not do a good enough job on a couple of their guys, especially Michael Carter-Williams and we couldn’t get over the hump. We couldn’t get that gap, that margin where we needed it to be. They played well and they deserve it, we didn’t play as well, we played extremely hard. They move on and we call it a great year.
Q. Christan, it must be hard to do right now but is there any way you can put into perspective your career at Indiana right now?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: As you know, it’s been full of up’s and down’s but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love my teammates and I’m happy to be an Indiana Hoosier at the end of the day.
Q. Victor, what made their two-three zone so difficult? What kind of challenges did they present in their zone?
VICTOR OLADIPO: They were just long and active. We just didn’t take care of the ball like we should have. In the first half we got a little too anxious, catching the ball, moving out the ball, not having the ball secure in our hands, and our shots weren’t falling at the same time.
WASHINGTON — Indiana saw just about everything imaginable in the Big Ten this season.
But not quite.
“We don’t see a lot of 2-3 zone like this,” guard Jordan Hulls said of Syracuse. “They’re very long, very athletic, they close out to balls a lot faster than what we’ve seen, even on film.”
The Hoosiers will finally get a look at the Syracuse zone that gets talked about so much when they play the Orange in a Sweet 16 game Thursday night at the Verizon Center.
What makes the Syracuse different and more challenging than other zones is the athletes Jim Boeheim recruits to play in it. Brandon Triche (6-foot-4) is the shortest player in the Orange’s starting lineup, and the other four are Michael Carter-Williams (6-foot-6), James Southerland (6-foot-8), C.J. Fair (6-foot-8) and Rakeem Christmas (6-foot-9).
“They’re athletic guys, long guys. They like to get up in your face,” said forward Will Sheehey. “They get out and challenge passing lanes, they don’t kinda pack it in. It’s almost like a pressure 2-3 zone.”
Added point guard Yogi Ferrell: “They have the best zone defense in the country. We’ve been practicing against it, watching a lot of film. It’s going to be a very tough test for us.”
Crean coached against Boeheim and Syracuse twice when he was at Marquette, so the zone won’t be completely new to him when he sees it Thursday night. Plus, Crean had almost four days to prepare for it, so the turnaround wasn’t all that short.
Even so, the Syracuse zone has proven to be one that can add new wrinkles and function in different ways depending on the opponent and the game. Plus, Crean is 0-2 in those two games.
“At Marquette we didn’t necessarily have the ability to score in the low post that maybe we have now,” Crean said Wednesday. “So it was a little bit different attack and we had good guards, people like Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews, you know Dominic James, Lazar Hayward, so people like that that could make plays but we didn’t necessarily have the low post ability.
“I don’t think you can look at that zone and think you’re going to beat it any one way but I don’t think you can look at the zone and think you can stand around and pass the ball around the perimeter, either. That is a recipe for defeat.”
One thing that will be key to beating the zone is knocking down perimeter shots, especially early in the game. The Hoosiers didn’t shoot particularly well against Temple on Sunday, and that will have to change.
WASHINGTON — Indiana and its fans may not have been thrilled to end up in the East Region instead of the Midwest, but John Harbaugh sure was.
The coach of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens made the short trip to the Verizon Center on Wednesday afternoon to watch the Hoosiers practice and see his brother-in-law, Tom Crean.
“I’m excited to be a part of it. I love these players,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve seem them practice over the years and I’ve kind of been around for the last four years, so it’s just a great experience to be a part of.”
Harbaugh and his brother, Jim, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, have always spent a good amount of time around Crean and the Indiana program, especially during the football offseason. John Harbaugh said he’s been impressed by what the Hoosiers have already accomplished this season.
“To hold on to that No. 1 spot for as long as they did, to me, is an amazing accomplishment,” he said. “They’ve been consistent, they’ve been steady. I love the Temple game, I love overcoming adversity the way they did. They kind of reminded me a little bit of our Ravens. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Harbaugh, who wore a gray Indiana sweatshirt and stood on the baseline while the Hoosiers practiced, said he plans to follow the team as far as it goes. He hopes he’ll be spending this weekend in the nation’s capital and next week, well …
“I’ve got a plane ticket to Atlanta,” he said, “and I’m not going if the Hoosiers don’t go.”
Tom Crean, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller and Jordan Hulls addressed the media Wednesday afternoon at the Verizon Center before Thursday night’s Sweet Sixteen matchup with the Syracuse Orange.