Tom Crean was perturbed Saturday night, and around Indiana basketball these days, that’s on a par with stirring up the Pope at the Vatican.
The Hoosiers had just finished an 87-51 victory against Coppin State, which didn’t rate high in terms of aesthetics.
Being members of the media, we tend to pick at things when there isn’t much to dissect. So after a 36-point victory, Crean was being asked about a few negative points buried beneath the surface.
Basically, Crean’s message was “don’t rain on our parade.”
Crean was very polite while scolding, which served a couple of purposes. First, he keeps his “great guy” image, which fits nicely with the direction of the program. If you want to talk about a beloved figure in college sports, you can start right in Bloomington with Crean.
What makes that statement out of the ordinary is that Crean only has been around five years, including three ugly losing seasons. This is a guy who has a 63-75 overall record at Indiana and a 19-53 record in the Big Ten.
Fortunately for Crean, he has a very intelligent fan base when it comes to basketball. In the NBA, I doubt very much any team’s administration cares a whole lot about a fan’s opinion, especially if there are butts in the seats at game time. That’s not true at the college level, where the fans, depending on their income and support level to the university, have an effect on the direction of every program.
The Cream and Crimson bloods understood from Day One that Crean had a plan to return Indiana to the top of the college basketball world. That created something rare in the sports world. Patience.
So here he is, the fifth season under way, and Crean has delivered with a No. 1 ranking.
If you have been fortunate enough to attend a game at Assembly Hall this season, you know that everything begins with Crean’s message to the fans, which he tapes before every home game. Usually he has a little theme for the night, and he asks that everyone gets as loud and rowdy as possible.
Now at most places, such a regular offering would be somewhat ignored so that fans could buy peanuts, make a pregame trip to the restrooms or compare properly branded IU sportswear.
At Assembly Hall, though, everything snaps to attention when Crean’s picture flashes up on the big boards. By the end of his message, the crowds erupts as they would if Victor Oladipo had just executed a 360-degree dunk.
Eventually, after the players have come on the court, Crean emerges from the locker room to another huge ovation. If IU closed its doors tomorrow, Crean could go household to household in Indiana for the rest of his life receiving free meals. Crean was hired April 1, 2008, and that day might well become a state holiday down the road.
So back to his polite scolding after the Coppin State win.
Crean does everything he can to keep things in a positive light, even when you can assume he is burning a bit on the inside. Anyone who has watched Crean twisting and turning and twitching on the court in the final seconds of a 30-point victory knows that this guy is a perfectionist who doesn’t shut it down after victory is assured. He is going to keep coaching the backups and the backups to the backups.
But if he is, indeed, annoyed at his team or some of his players, he isn’t about to share that annoyance with the public. He didn’t on Saturday night. Positive. Positive. Positive.
Before Crean came into the press room, his players already had visited. Oladipo talked about the Hoosiers’ slow start (they trailed 9-2) and how they couldn’t afford that kind of start against quality competition. Guard Remy Abell talked about the Hoosiers being “stagnant” against the zone defense of Coppin State. That led to center Cody Zeller having just one shot in the first half against a team of Munchkins.
You got the feeling that those issues were handled in the locker room and would be revisited a thousand times once the practice week starts. Of course, all in a positive, but firm, manner.
Of course, those of us in the media will continue asking questions that will force Crean to take a deep breath before answering. Of all the wonderful things the Hoosiers have accomplished so far this season, they have looked a bit lost at times in their half-court offense against the zone, unable to take advantage of the 7-footer in the middle. You can bet that every Big Ten opponent is studying that Coppin State film right now.
That, however, will be less of a problem as Crean has more time to work with his freshman point guard, Kevin “Yogi” Farrell, while blending all his talent together.
The fans won’t see that work, sometimes painful, behind the scenes. But they probably don’t care. They just want to enjoy the parade.