BOZICH | The story CBS, ESPN and others have missed on Indiana basketball
The New York Daily News said Mike Woodson would be coaching Indiana. ESPN did not include Tom Crean on its list of Top 50 coaches. The Hoosiers are 14-4 -- and back in the Top 25.
Monday, January 19th 2015, 2:51 pm EST by
Monday, January 19th 2015, 3:34 pm EST
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The competition for Best Fiction written about the Indiana University basketball team is crowded, intense and unrelenting. Everybody but Stephen King has entered the race.
The New York Daily News fired the opening shot last spring, elevating fired Knicks coach Mike Woodson to the Indiana head coaching position.
ESPN upped the ante last summer, ranking the Top 50 coaches in college basketball. Bob Hoffman of Mercer, Chris Mack of Xavier and Ed Cooley of Providence made the list. IU coach Tom Crean did not.
The Indy Star refused to be ignored. They shrieked that Crean needed to lose his job in November after he was forced to punish about a half-dozen players for off-the-court issues.
They also have a fascination with a coach who has lost 82 of 120 games with the Celtics.
wants in the game, too. After the Hoosiers won at Illinois Sunday to improve to 4-1 in the Big Ten, a CBS guy wrote that the victory convinced him the Hoosiers will make the NCAA Tournament and “save,” Crean's job. Sources say his source is the same guy who tipped the Daily News on Woodson.
Here is my non-fiction response to the considerable fiction being shared about the Hoosiers:
1. Woodson, an IU alum, is an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise that continues to mildly underachieve. The next college basketball game Woodson coaches will be his first.
2. Crean has played seven games this season against coaches ranked on ESPN's magical Top 50.
He lost to Rick Pitino (ranked fifth), John Thompson III (46th) and Tom Izzo (third). He defeated Larry Brown (21st), Jamie Dixon (25th), Thad Matta (20th) and Tim Miles (32nd).
I believe that is four wins, three losses – with an IU team that was picked to finish as low as 10th in the Big Ten by some.
3. Crean's guys have delivered four consecutive seasons of perfect 1000 APR scores, which is the system the NCAA uses to measure academic progress.
Many of his players earned degrees in three seasons. Several left Bloomington with post-graduate degrees – in case anybody is old-fashioned enough to believe that stuff actually matters.
Have there been nights of knucklehead behavior? You bet. Was the program out of control? Ask a better question.
4. That was a nice victory at Illinois, where the Illini were unbeaten this season.
But I don't recall hearing IU athletic director Fred Glass ever saying that Crean needed to “save” his job. Actually, I believe Glass signed Crean to a deal that lasts until 2020 before Crean won the 2013 Big Ten regular season title.
Here is the story the speculators are missing: Crean, his coaching staff and players have delivered a poised and persistent effort this season, winning 14 of 18 games.
They have done good work. It's not that hard to see – or write.
They've won three Big Ten games they were not favored or projected to win. They've won three games against Top 25 opponents – and lost two.
The other 13 Big Ten teams have combined to go 4-26 against Top 25 opponents, according to
. I am awaiting confirmation that coaching had anything to do with this.
They've done it without getting one minute from Devin Davis, a guy who figured to be one of their two best rebounders. Davis suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident on Halloween Night and just resumed sitting on the IU bench last week.
They've done it for the last two games without Hanner Mosquera-Perea, their only rotation player taller than 6 feet 7. He's got an injured knee and figures to miss at least six more games.
Mosquera-Perea isn't Noah Vonleh or Luke Fischer, the two big guys Crean planned to have on this team. But he was the only paint protector the Hoosiers had.
They've done it while using four freshmen – two guards (James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson) that Crean recruited to fix Indiana's shooting issues and two frontcourt players (Max Hoetzel and Emmitt Holt) that most Top 25 programs had no interest in recruiting.
They've done it as Crean's proven ability to develop players (roll video of Dwyane Wade and Victor Oladipo) has started to transform Troy Williams into one of the most dynamic players in the Big Ten.
They've done it with Yogi Ferrell shooting less while passing, defending and leading more. They've done it with Collin Hartman and Nick Zeisloft making an occasional three and scrambling for an occasional rebound.
They've done it despite all the silly background noise about Woodson, Top 50 coaches' lists and Crean's job security.
Crean has tuned out the nonsense and tuned into his young team, which does not have a senior. He has logged off Twitter and logged into creating ways to win with an undersized lineup.
The Hoosiers have improved their shooting, ball-handling and team play. They'll need to improve their defense and rebounding to keep winning in the Big Ten, but Crean knows that.
Are they a cinch to make the NCAA Tournament?
Not yet. Ken Pomeroy's computer formula considers Indiana the underdog in four of the Hoosiers' next five games.
Are they a Top 25 team? The Hoosiers sit 23rd in AP and USA Today coaches' poll. Joe Lunardi has them an eight-seed in the NCAA field.
Is a losing streak possible? Heavens, yes. It's Big Ten basketball.
Minnesota, a team picked to finish ahead of IU, lost five straight. Ohio State, a top three pre-season Big Ten team, is 3-3 in the league. And those two programs have ESPN Top 50 coaches.
Crean doesn't think his team has arrived yet. He knows he has work to do. He's learned that at Indiana you're always just 40 bad minutes away from hearing what you did wrong.
But Crean has always been eager to do the work – even if that doesn't fit the fictional narrative around Indiana basketball.
For 18 games, Crean, his staff and players have outperformed expectations.
I don't need to check the New York Daily News and CBSSports sources to report that.
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