That’s A Wrap: Tom Crean

  • 04/13/2015 8:51 am in

Welcome to “That’s A Wrap,” our recap of the 2014-2015 Indiana Hoosiers. We conclude the series today with a look at Tom Crean.

What a wild one for Tom Crean in year seven.

The season had yet to begin, and Crean faced crisis and calls for his head in the wake of the Devin Davis incident. But his team did not crumble in the wake of the accident, it bonded together and thrived. Slipups in the non-conference season happened — the home loss to Eastern Washington was particularly concerning and a sign of things to come on the defensive end — but Indiana pushed the pace, scored the ball at a strong clip and rebounded well despite its size issues. Wins against SMU, Pittsburgh and Butler, along with a close overtime loss to Georgetown gave hope.

So did a 5-1 start to the Big Ten season. The Hoosiers weren’t supposed to be this good. One prominent college hoops voice placed Crean in the coach of the year discussion. Another separated fact from fiction in the Crean saga.

But as the conference season rolled along, the mob re-emerged with their pitchforks. On paper, the back half of the Big Ten schedule was supposed to be easier. But the Hoosiers limped to the finish line — finishing 4-8 in the their final 12. Crean did a fantastic job creating a top 10 offense out of the pieces he had. He put in the work over the summer and the results were strong — something I wrote about last week. But that’s just one side of the ball. And Indiana’s defense was curiously — and historically — bad. (Alex went in depth on this last week.)

When the offense was at its maximum, Indiana could beat a talented Maryland squad by 19 despite giving up 1.10 points per possession. But in games the offense wasn’t as good, its defense gave it little hope of doing enough to pull out a victory. If that home win against Maryland was Crean’s team at its best, its loss on Feb. 25 to Northwestern was it at its worst. The defense gave little resistance against a Northwestern team that simply wasn’t good and the Wildcats torched it for 1.41 points per possession in the first half.

Semi-contested 3s were a shot Indiana had the ability to hit all season. But as the Hoosiers kept trying those in the second half off little ball movement against Northwestern’s zone, they simply didn’t fall. It ended in an ugly seven-point loss. A look at the Film Session from that game reveals a team switching defenses mid-possession — something Crean said was to surprise and confuse the opponent — but it was clear it was actually befuddling his own team.

Because Crean held hard and fast to this style of defense for most of the season, one that often had the Hoosiers sinking away from man-to-man into zone, Indiana’s defense was essentially retreating from the opponent instead of pressuring and getting up into their faces. It never allowed them to create much in the way of opportunities to turn defense into offense. And Indiana didn’t create any of its own energy off of its defense, either. The next time around against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers did pressure and hound to great effect and it was the catalyst for buckets in a comfortable win. It left one wondering where this had been all season.

After a listless loss to Iowa at home on March 3, Crean faced even more heat. Fred Glass had to step in and give a vote of confidence. And despite closing out the Big Ten season with back-to-back home losses after falling to MSU by two on March 7, Indiana showed some defensive resolve late to get back into it, which carried into the Northwestern game.

While there was plenty of grumbling on the social web about Crean and all seemed lost at the time, the Indiana crowd that remained in Assembly Hall cheered the team as it left the court. Thomas Bryant took it all in behind Indiana’s bench.

A month later, he committed to Indiana and Crean secured a player with a skillset he was desperately lacking during the 2014-2015 campaign. It marks the fifth straight season he brings a McDonald’s All-American to Bloomington.

There was talk Indiana may not make the NCAA Tournament due to its final stretch. But it racked up so many quality wins, the committee didn’t see it that way and the Hoosiers snagged a 10 seed. Crean had the team prepared and it played well against Wichita State. But the better and more experienced team won the game by making the plays in the end and Indiana bowed out in the first round.

Bottom Line: While it happened in an odd way — from exceeding expectations followed by a collapse down the stretch — Indiana achieved about right in line with were it was projected. Crean had his team ranked for a tiny stretch of the year and got the Hoosiers back into the NCAA Tournament, despite the first round loss.

But Indiana fans want a shot at playing deep into March, not sweating it out on Selection Sunday after not making the tournament the previous season.

Crean’s squad next season — like his three years ago — appears to have the talent on paper to be more in line with the Hoosier faithful’s high expectations.

Quotable: “My goals for this program are to perennially contend for and to win multiple Big Ten championships, regularly go deep in the NCAA tournament and win our next national championship, Be elite, if you will. As a lifelong Hoosier and IU basketball fan, alumnus and current AD, nobody wants that more than me.

“Coach Crean’s status should be based on his ability to achieve those goals going forward, not what he has or hasn’t done in the past. Because I believe in the team he has assembled and is assembling, his leadership of it and their ability to start achieving our program goals, I continue to support Tom Crean as our coach.” — Indiana athletics director Fred Glass

Previously: Robert Johnson, Max Hoetzel, Emmitt Holt, James Blackmon Jr.,Stanford Robinson, Troy Williams, Collin Hartman, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Nick Zeisloft, Yogi Ferrell, The Other Guys, Team offense, Team defense

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