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Transfers and the Big Ten: Tom Crean's Epidemic?

Fans are stirred up at the idea of players leaving the program recently. Is Tom Crean creating an atmosphere of discomfort or is this pretty much status quo for the Big Ten? The numbers may surprise you.


It's been no secret that Tom Crean has dealt with a lot of transfers in his six year tenure at Indiana University. He's getting blasted left and right from critics within the program's fan base and from without about how much he's "forcing" kids out of the program. Indiana fans after the most recent two transfers are starting to question the way he runs his program and Wisconsin fans will chime in to tell you that the same questions arose at Marquette. So I decided to sit down and take a closer look, not only at Crean, but at the Big Ten conference as a whole.

First off, let's take a look at Crean. Wisconsin fans have from day one that Tom set foot in Bloomington been yelling at anyone who will listen that Tom Crean had a transfer epidemic at Marquette and any transfer here is a sign that he's a bad coach and bad person that forces kids that can't compete to find another place to play ball. To address that running meme coming out of Wisconsin I went to and looked at all of his rosters at Marquette.

Tom Crean coached 9 years at Marquette University. In that span, there were 15 underclassmen that were on the previous year's roster that weren't on the next year's roster despite eligibility. 10 of those were walk-ons/retirees. Meaning they played solely at Marquette and attended no other school for athletics (sports-reference doesn't denote scholarship players so I can't conclusively call them walk-ons). There were 5 players in Marquette's 9 year span of Tom Crean that had remaining eligibility and left the university as non-graduates. As you'll see here in a few paragraphs, compared to most coaches that is quite low.

Now at Indiana in 6 years that number has jumped to 7. 7 players for Indiana have set foot on campus and left the university without obtaining a degree to play basketball elsewhere. They are as follows, Nick Williams, Malik Story, Bawa Muniru, Bobby Capobianco, Remy Abell, Luke Fischer and Jeremy Hollowell. Those 7 players were/will be forced to sit one year before getting to play at their new school. As many of you know Williams and Story were guys on that dreadful first year squad that played Kyle Taber in the post. Story played about 18 minutes a game, was dreadful (77.6 ORtg) and opted to leave for Nevada which was approximately 2,000 miles closer to home.

Nick Williams followed Crean from Marquette to Indiana and started all season in year one. He logged 26 minutes a game, but was unhappy with the fact that he was falling down the depth chart with the emergence of Verdell Jones late in the year and Mo Creek coming in as a top 50 recruit the next. Williams and Story were roommates that year and opted to leave together.

Bawa Muniru and Bobby Capobianco were a part of Crean's first real recruiting class. Muniru was rated 112 by Rivals and Capo was unranked. Muniru stuck around for 1 year, played 3 minutes on average and opted to transfer to Tennessee State. At TSU he logged few minutes and just a year later transferred yet again to D-II Lee University where he finished up his senior year averaging 9 minutes and 1.5 points per game. That information right there should explain a lot about Muniru's capabilities to play in the Big Ten. He was in over his head, he knew, Crean knew it and everyone else suspected it.

Cap however showed some ability in his time at Indiana as a freshman he logged 12 minutes a game backing up Tom Pritchard. However as a sophomore he lost significant playing time to classmate Derek Elston, logging only 5 minutes a game. Capobianco feeling his ability was worth more chose to transfer to Valparaiso where he would get to play more on the perimeter on shoot some threes. He finished his senior season this year with 18 minutes per game and 6.3 points while shooting 55 three pointers at 40%. Again, a guy that would have likely spent most of his time on the bench.

More recently we're all aware of what's happened with the other three. Fischer was homesick and reinforced that by transferring 20 minutes from home. Hollowell and Crean never seemed to agree judging by two separate 3 game suspensions in 2 years and Abell didn't see himself as the back-up PG that the coaching staff did. On the whole, 7 transfers that didn't receive an Indiana University degree.

Ultimately, I'm sure you're asking, "yeah AJ we know what happened, but how often does it happen everywhere else?" The answer is, often.  I went through and looked at all the Big Ten's current coaches and looked at their roster turnover from year to year to see if Tom Crean has a problem or if it's an industry standard. The answer is actually somewhat interesting.

The average Big Ten coach today has coached for 6 years and averages roughly 1 non-graduate transfer per season. In the 12 coaches' coaching careers there have been a combined 61 non-graduate transfers. Of course those numbers skew slightly because we have four coaches with two or less years of experience so far, but they balance out with two of those coaches having a very high number of transfers and two with no transfers to date. Sandwiched in the middle are coaches with 3 or more years of experience. They account for 53 of those 61 transfers. Where does Tom Crean fall in these numbers?

Well, the non-graduate transfers per year average of a Big Ten coach is 1.10 transfers. Tom Crean sits at 1.17 non-graduate transfers per year. Or, 6% higher than the conference average. The coaches that one should expect to have a transfer pretty much annually are Chris Collins (3 this year), John Groce (5 last season), Patrick Chambers, Matt Painter, Tom Crean, Thad Matta and John Belein. Notice a trend of those 7 coaches? They've all had to work their asses off to bring programs from near mid-major levels to respectability fast.

Looking at the rest of the coaches, Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo seem to have their systems down pat. Mind you they're both in years 13 and 19 of their respective careers at their schools. Bo Ryan especially seems to be a wizard. He recruits a certain type of guy that knows where he stands from day 1, is willing to sit 2 years and play as a junior/senior. He's had 3 transfers in his 13 seasons. Tom Izzo is nearly just as good he's had 7 in 17 (his first two years weren't in the sortable database). These two have both seen runs well into their careers at their respective schools of years without losing a single guy to transfer. They're good.

But, what about everyone else that isn't an under-graduate transfer you ask? Tom Crean is losing walk-ons too! That surely should be alarming. Well, no. Tom Izzo in his 17 trackable years has had over 20 walk-ons leave from one season to the next. Crean has had 4 at Indiana. Bo Ryan, 11. John Beilein, 8. The answer to that question is that even being practice fodder for scholarship athletes is incredibly demanding. Academics tend to take priority when you aren't getting "paid" to play. Walk-ons for everyone come and go.

Ultimately, Tom Crean's transfers don't appear to be a big problem. Likely the most painful of his undergrads leaving is Luke Fischer from this year and that's primarily because he leaves us with no depth options at the 4/5. We should be more concerned if centerpieces like Yogi Ferrell or Troy Williams were leaving, but the fact that no one outside of Fischer looked to be a major factor in Indiana basketball going forward makes these losses inconsequential. Now if we continue to shed guys at two per year and they happen to be key players then we can bite our nails. But until then, relax. Indiana's transfer experience isn't much different than anyone else's. Players come and go. As long as success remains, the problem is minimal.