There’s a simple reason Indiana University athletics director Fred Glass had no choice but to fire men’s basketball coach Tom Crean.
His teams didn’t win enough games enough seasons. Some years they did, but too many years, they didn’t.
Every year, IU basketball fans expect the team to compete at the highest levels in the NCAA. Two years out of the past four, including this year, the Hoosiers clearly fell short of that mark. In those two seasons, the Hoosiers weren’t even one of the top 68 teams in the nation when it was time to name an NCAA Tournament field.
With nine years to build a program, that wasn’t good enough. Not for what fans and alumni like to consider an elite college basketball program. Not for IU.
He deserves thanks for what he did in Bloomington. He took the embarrassing shambles left by NCAA-rule-breaker Kelvin Sampson and patiently nursed it through three seasons when virtually everybody beat IU. Then he raised expectations with on-the-court success with the likes of Cody Zeller and Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo, leading IU back to prominence and the NCAA’s Sweet 16. The fact IU got no further, with two of the best players in all of college basketball as documented by the NBA player draft, hinted at things to come.
He continued to get some of the best high school basketball players in the nation to come play for him. This year, two McDonald’s All-Americans in high school were second- and third-year players in his starting lineup, but the team lost almost half its games. Fans wondered, “How does that happen?” Glass had to wonder the same thing.
Crean often praised Indiana fans as the best in the nation. The downside of that for him was the fans recognized the product on the court wasn’t good enough. They love their Hoosiers but hated seeing them play like they couldn’t master fundamental concepts, such as not turning the ball over to the other team, which IU did more than a vast majority of teams in the country.
And the fans recognized Indiana is supposed to be in the NCAA Tournament every year, not just once in a while. More importantly, so did Glass.
With the exception of a few knuckleheads a couple of years ago, Crean’s players comported themselves well off the court and did well academically. Few problems there. But his teams weren’t good enough on the court precisely because of what Crean said the day he was hired nine years ago:
“It’s Indiana” — a school where consistent winning is expected. Crean’s teams fell short of that basic expectation.
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