BOZICH | Back to the (NCAA Tournament) brink for Indiana, Crean - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Back to the (NCAA Tournament) brink for Indiana, Crean

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – Four weeks ago Tom Crean was a leading contender for Big Ten coach of the year.

Five or six days from now Tom Crean will be a leading candidate for who knows what?

Still the basketball coach at Indiana University? That's what IU athletic director Fred Glass said several times this week. This is the time of year ADs are supposed to be talking about the post-season, but Glass was compelled to defend his coach.

That was also the passionate message that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo delivered after his Spartans defeated the Hoosiers, 74-72, at Assembly Hall Saturday. It happened after Yogi Ferrell, Indiana's best free throw shooter, missed a free throw that would have tied the game at 73 with two seconds to play.

“Am I little frustrated with (the criticism of Crean)?” Izzo said. “Yes, I am. Do I think he's a helluva coach. Yes, I do. Do I think he's got to make adjustments just like I do and everybody else? Probably.

“I'm telling you the guy can coach and the guy can recruit. He built my program. He helped me build my program. My program wouldn't be as good as it was if it wasn't for Tom Crean. I mean that. I really do.“

Glass and Izzo have been moved to defend the coach because there has been more increased howling inside the IU fan base to release Crean from the final five years on his contract and engage a $12 million buyout clause.

Others have tried to sell a story that I question – that Crean is looking for another spot to land.

That is difficult to believe when you exhale and remember that Crean is coaching a team without a senior – and that Thomas Bryant and Thon Maker, two of the best high school centers in the nation, visited IU Saturday, watching from the first row behind the bench. Add either to the lineup next season and the Hoosiers are a pre-season Top 10 team.

So how does this story unfold?

The answer, of course, is stay tuned, especially after Indiana lost to Michigan State, completing a slide from 5-1 (Coach of the Year) to 9-9 (Not Coach of the Year) in the Big Ten.

The tough loss ignited more grumbling, but not as steamy as the grumbling that followed Indiana's losses to Northwestern and Iowa that started this three-game losing streak.

“Coach is always talking about not listening to anybody, not reading anything that's got our name in it, just because we don't need that,” Ferrell said.

“We know all that negativity is out there. It's a negative world. We know it's going to be out there and going to happen. We just need to keep a positive mindset and stay together and we'll be OK.”

“We didn't plan on having that great start and then finishing the way we did,” IU guard Nick Zeisloft said. “So now we have to learn from it."

Here is the most reasonable thing I can say about Indiana: In the end, the Hoosiers (19-12) turned out to be the team people thought they would be last November. They are officially parked in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, good enough to win – and lose – half their games.

The Hoosiers were good enough to dominate the teams that finished below them in the conference, winning seven of eight.

They were usually not good enough to beat the teams that will finish ahead of them, going 2-8 against Wisconsin, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue.

One or two plays were often the difference for Indiana. They made the plays against Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State. They did not make them at Maryland or at home against Purdue or Michigan State.

Ferrell, the fourth-best free throw shooter in the Big Ten, went to the line with two seconds to play after IU had chopped a 67-56 Michigan State lead to 73-72 over the final 3:50.

Ferrell's first free throw touched every centimeter of the rim – and fell in.

“(Thought) I was going to make them,” Ferrell said. “The first one rolled in. I guess the basketball gods felt good for me on that first free throw.”

The second kissed a chunk of the rim – and fell off. Ferrell is an 85 percent free throw shooter who had made 10 of his first 11 from the line Saturday.

But he missed the one that would have tied the game at 73. It would have also likely forced overtime. It could have also ended the debate about whether Indiana would make the NCAA Tournament.

“The second one just rolled out,” Ferrell said. “Pretty disappointing, missing the second one. But it happens … I feel like I do want to be there. I'm always going to want to try to take a last second shot. I'll think I have enough confidence to do that.”

The ball rolls in and Indiana has a chance to climb to 10-8 in the league. Chances are it would have slowed the conversation about whether Crean will return for an eighth season at Assembly Hall.

A fairly significant free throw.

The issue for Indiana is the same issue that that dogged this team since November – defense. Michigan State enjoyed too many easy shots near the goal.

Indiana ranks last in the Big Ten in points allowed as well as defensive field goal percentage. The Hoosiers are allowing nearly five points per game more than any team in the Big Ten and they're also last in defensive field goal percentage by a healthy margin. They're an astounding 229th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to the number at Ken Pomeroy's web site.

Crean has tried zone. He has also tried man to man.

Neither approach has been compared to barbed wire defense because Indiana simply has not stopped enough people regardless of how well they have scored.

Now they head to the Big Ten Tournament, likely in need of a win.

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