The day after a season-ending loss, when it is unknown which players will be back and when the season and the loss are still so fresh that a rollercoaster of emotions are still flowing, is probably not the appropriate time to evaluate the state of the program. But because there is a portion of the Indiana fanbase that is so absolutely loony about what this program is and who should lead it, it seems necessary just hours after the Hoosiers were eliminated to talk about where we really are. So, I'll talk about where we are -- the fans.
We've had a lot of discussions amongst ourselves here at Crimson Quarry about the aforementioned loony part of the fanbase. There are jokes to be made about low-T counts and wives leaving, but the fact really, that part of the fanbase is just sad. Miserable, is more like it.
You know someone that fits the mold of who I'm talking about. They think that a two-time Big Ten champion and the all-time assist leader in program history was a loser. They think that Sweet 16s are failures, no matter the circumstances surrounding the program before and during the season. Fellow Crimson Quarry staffer Kyle Swick has the best answer for that one:
Indiana has won 5 National Titles in over 100 tries. It is not a birthright. This was a good season that came up short. #iubb— For Indiana. (@KickSewly) March 26, 2016
But more than any of that, you know what they really think: They think that a man who took the gamble of a lifetime and career leaving a cushy gig to take the reins of a program left in shambles, a man who since day one has talked about how he wants to win for the fans who hate him, a man who has pulled Indiana basketball from the pits of Hell and back into the light is unworthy. They think Tom Crean is unworthy of his job.
These people, who not coincidentally are the same people who ran Mike Davis out of town just a handful of years after he took the 2002 team to the national championship game, are a embarrassing group. The thought itself -- that Tom Crean isn't good enough for Indiana -- is fine to have, I suppose. Reasonable people can disagree. But these people aren't reasonable because rather than just thinking that Crean isn't good enough, they are rooting for his demise.
These people love Indiana basketball so much that they hope the team loses and coach gets fired. Incredible.
But I get it. Fandom is hard stuff. If your feelings for a team run any deeper than the surface, then you put yourself at risk for heartbreak. And being an Indiana fan is like being in a bad relationship where your significant other keeps doing you wrong, time after time, but you find renewed hope in them that makes things great. Until they do you wrong again.
So these people have built a defense mechanism. If Indiana wins the whole thing, they can breathe easy because they didn't get hurt. If anything else happens, they can act tough and smart. "Told you so."
It's not that you can't ever be critical of the man. I have been. But, my goodness, have perspective.
Tom Crean is not perfect. But neither was Bob Knight.
In his last five years at Indiana, Knight won two tournament games, and those two weren't in the same tournament. In Crean's last five years, he's won six tournament games, and advanced further than those last five Knight teams three times.
And in each of those three trips to the Sweet 16, the Hoosiers have run into three teams who each played their single best game of the season. As an example, last night, the 305th best three point shooting team in the country made 11 of them, 7-for-7 in the first 19 minutes and 57 seconds. Crean is flawed, like all coaches, yes. But it also happens that he's unbelievably unlucky.
One hell of a season these boys just had. From being left for dead after a few rough outings in November and December and playing at times without James Blackmon, Jr., Robert Johnson, and Juwan Morgan, and the entire season without Emmitt Holt, to being under-seeded and being placed in the NCAA's equivalent of the group of death, all this team faced was adversity and overwhelming odds. And all Crean did was win a Big Ten championship, eliminate Kentucky, and give us all one of the most entertaining season in program history.
Shame on him for not finishing the job? No. Shame on you for demanding anything more in a sport that decides a champion by crap shoot and rarely crowns the best.
The rest of Indiana fans? There is an understanding that if year in and year out you get a good seed in the tournament and have a team talented enough to beat anyone, eventually, they will beat everyone. There is a joy in what this team did. And there will not be a need or desire to open the liquor cabinet and reminisce about the 80s when Tom Crean gets an extension in the very near future.
And most importantly, there is an appreciation for the man who risked it all to come to Bloomington and saved Indiana basketball. He did that for the same reason they think he's not worthy: "It's Indiana." But the reality is, with every tweet calling for his job and conversation about his inabilities, the truth become evermore clear: Indiana fans aren't worthy of Tom Crean.