Everything you always wanted to know about Indiana, but—well, everything I know about Indiana.
But first. . .
Ten days ago, I gave you four Big Ten coaches to keep an eye on. Since then, two of them, John Groce and Tom Crean, have been fired.
The other two? I wondered if Thad Matta might yield to chronic back troubles, and what Chris Collins would do if someone threw an insane amount of money his way.
We’ll see about Matta. But I would advise my friend, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, to ask Julia Louis-Dreyfus if she’s prepared to put her checkbook where her dancing shoes are.
And now. . . what about Indiana? Because there’s trouble in Hoosierland. Again.
Indiana is a tricky place. Because a short list of the greatest basketball programs in America includes Indiana alongside Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina and Duke. (I won’t object if you want to include others. But these are mine.)
Here’s the thing about Indiana: Historically, it is the best basketball program in the best basketball state.
But that’s long history. In the last 30-plus years, IU has been messy.
At times, really messy.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
You may have heard Dan Dakich ranting the other day that his coach, Bob Knight, should have been fired a decade earlier. I don’t know the exact moment. But I do know that in his last seven yearss, when I was up-close on the Knight Watch, he was far from brilliant.
No question, The General set a standard of excellence in his first two decades at Indiana. But other coaches emulated his exceptional planning and execution, and caught up with and passed him.
In his last years, Knight had a woeful Big Ten road record. And when Lon Kruger was at Illinois, he dominated their head-to-head matchups.
However bitter Knight might have been about the way he was bounced from Indiana, it’s really sad that he has been unable to let bygones be bygone, and celebrate his accomplishments in the reunions he has refused to attend in recent years.
He isn’t simply denying players from his three national championship teams. He’s stewing in his own crimson-and-cream juices, denying himself what ought to be a flood of good feelings and warm memories.
But that’s just another sorry chapter in Indiana lore. For all its great tradition, IU can be very unforgiving.
Which brings us to Tom Crean.
I get it. Crean has always been better at recruiting than coaching. At Indiana, he always tended to leave fans wanting more. Even his best team, the 2012-13 squad that was led by Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, fizzled in the Sweet 16 after being ranked No. 1 for 10 weeks.
Crean won two Big Ten titles, but three Sweet 16s was as far as he got at Indiana.
The only time Crean has gone deeper than the Sweet 16 in his career was at the 2003 Final Four with Marquette. Ironically, the hero of that team, Dwyane Wade, also is having a bad week. An elbow injury has put him on the regular-season shelf with the Bulls, for whom he may have played his last game.
The other thing about Crean is that he’s caught in-between personality-wise. He’ll never be confused with his mentor, Tom Izzo. Everybody loves Tom Izzo. And he’s not as gifted at the infant-terrible act of his brother-in-law, wide-eyed pot-stirrer Jim Harbaugh.
Throw in the fact that Crean’s act plays better in a big city than in southern Indiana, and it’s easy to see why IU had a quick trigger.
Honestly, Indiana’s Assembly Hall was always my least favorite stop on the Big Ten circuit. No question, the fans were very rabid and very knowledgeable. But they were so unforgiving that there was always a very tense, edgy air to the place.
That certainly was the case with Knight. I was just a bounce pass away on the night when he brushed past referee Ted Valentine with smoke coming out of his ears. I thought Knight was going to slug him—and exit like one of his heroes, Woody Hayes.
I was at Assembly Hall right after Knight got fired, and I remember Dane Fife, who’s now a fine Michigan State assistant, and some of his Hoosier teammates vowing that they would quit if Knight wasn’t reinstated.
A demanding Hoosier Nation never was comfortable with Mike Davis, despite his unlikely Final Four.
And Kelvin Sampson obviously was a disaster on multiple levels.
The weird part about that is that Illinois was all set to hire Sampson, but Sampson ticked off Illini AD Ron Guenther by tipping the media that Guenther was coming to Oklahoma. And Guenther wound up hiring Bill Self instead.
Ponder that for a moment.
So where does Indiana go from here?
It ought to attract a top-drawer coach. The names are similar to the ones floating around for the open Illinois job: Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Dayton’s Archie Miller, Xavier’s Chris Mack and Butler’s Chris Holtmann make the most sense.
Indiana might inquire with UCLA’s Steve Alford and Virginia’s Tony Bennett, but I don’t see why they’d leave their current situations, which would be short-sighted not to give them whatever raise was required.
The big question, though, is. . . is Indiana still among the handful of historic programs I listed above?
The answer, it is if it finds a coach who can restore it to glory. That’s tougher to do in the modern world, where so many programs are so much more dedicated and competitive.
Never mind around the nation. In the Big Ten alone, virtually every program is hitting on all cylinders.
That might not reflect in win totals at the moment. But I would be hard-pressed to name a Big Ten school where I can say, ``They absolutely have to change coaches.’’ From Izzo and Beilein and Painter to Pitino and Collins, virtually every program is in pretty good hands.
That’s why Illinois and Indiana face a tough road back. That’s daunting enough at Illinois, which has high expectations. At Indiana, where the expectations are unbridled and relentless, that’s going to be a very tough deal.[/membership]