For the first time in years, I’m enjoying Indiana basketball.
I watched as the Hoosiers molly-whopped Illinois by 34 points. The Fighting Now-Banned Mascots lost their first five defeats by a combined 33.
Over the weekend I watched IU beat Northwestern by 32 points, enough to make Bill Carmody laugh his ass off even when buried under snow in miserable New Jersey (turns out he now coaches Holy Cross).
Well of course you’re enjoying your team blowing out conference opponents.
Yeah, but there’s something more there. I’m finally learning to separate my dislike of Crean's quirks from a passion for the program and the fact that, yeah, he’s doing a pretty darn good job.
(*deletes sentence, presses control+Z, sighs*)
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It’s really incredible to think of Crean’s fall from grace since 2008. How would those "Crean and Crimson" shirts sell now? Look at how the gap between Crean and the fan base has been widened. Crean used to do these preseason speeches at the IU Auditorium. I remember going my freshman year. It was fun. He made jokes about Brett Finkelmeier being in Fiji. It would seem these "Night with Tom Crean" events stopped after 2014. Tom Crean tweeted 8,335 times between April 2009 and his last tweet on Nov. 2, 2014. You used to be able to call in questions to the Tom Crean radio show. Questions are now only allowed to be submitted via email. It's been decided by Crean or others around him to place the coach on an island.
Those three all show a trend of Crean separating himself from the fans, but also the noise. Perhaps he was realizing that he could never be the kind of guy who could run for office in Indiana, but rather, just needed to be a good coach. Again, that realization of differentiating person and coach is key here.
As a person, Tom Crean may not be inherently endearing. Where his brother-in-law's equally odd actions are endearing, Crean has become the internet dork of the family. The pants, the hair. The rather weird interactions with other coaches at times -- Jeff Meyer, Tim Miles, & Bo Ryan. The 2013 banner. The net-cutting. Combine that with the off-court transgressions of players, and it's hard for some to picture the coach as a sympathetic character.
I promise I’m not bringing all this up to pile on Crean. Rather, these are the things that soured me on him and IU basketball. But these were also all the things Crean was fighting against this season. All the things that had gone wrong that could be viewed as a march toward more doom in 2016.
Then the impending doom did come; losing to Wake Forest, UNLV and getting obliterated by a since-mortal Duke team in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
And yet, right now, the team looks really damn good. So why does it pain me to say that? Why is it so hard for me to give Crean credit for doing a good job? It’s because I’ll never find Tom Crean to be a terribly sympathetic character. His dealings with both Indiana fans and other coaches have both been immature and isolationist, and it's easy for an outsider to cast him as the villain when clashing with, say, the likeable, halfting-tweeting Miles.
Part of the reason for Indiana's change might be Crean's own evolution. Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star wrote extensively about Crean's change as a coach -- from a the intense practice-til-you-drop coach to one that's far more mindful of quality over quantity. Heck, he's letting Yogi Ferrell run huddles, something very Uncrean.
And with that change, Indiana is 17-3, 7-0 in Big Ten play, and boatracing teams off the floor in a way that no other conference team can match. Ignore your feelings on Basketball Harbaugh and that’s the makings of a dang good season that should inspire confidence in a head coach. Add the mountain of crap preceding it and that record Indiana's 12-game win streak looks even more impressive.
Indiana could still very well tailspin into a ditch and Crean’s seat heats up again. The mad tweets will return. The boo-birds might, as well. Or maybe IU wins the conference regular season title and does something in March. You know, something. Honestly, I’ve learned against predicting these things because college basketball is at best, a crapshoot. It, likely, best serves you to do the same at this point in the season. Enjoy this Indiana team for what it is right now.
Regardless of where the season goes from here, you got to give the oddly-tan guy pulling up his pants his due for Indiana's remarkable transition from defensive sieve to the team leading the conference in opponent's points per possession. After turmoil and mad tweets and memes aplenty, Crean kept talented players on the team, got them to play together and now the Hoosiers are beating conference opponents by 30-plus. Sure, you can holler AIN'T PLAYED NOBODY, but the conference makes the schedule. What more would you like the man to do?
Sure, continue to make fun of PANTS (yes, we’re all terrible people), but don’t let the internet's refrain prevent you from recognizing that Crean might be quietly doing the country's best coaching job since the calendar flipped to 2016.