When Tom Crean was hired by the University of Indiana, the Hoosiers were a joke. Their roster was incredibly terrible, not just for Indiana standards, but for any major conference team. Crean was walking into what was once a beautiful house that had become a dump. Ever since the builder of that beautiful house, Bobby Knight, was ousted in 2000 Indiana struggled. They went through three coaches before Crean, without success.
In Crean’s first three seasons Indiana had a record of 28-66 and were a consistent Big Ten doormat.
That all changed last year when the Indiana Hoosiers took an enormous step forward, winning 27 games. They had a fifteen game improvement in wins, the most of any team last year. The 2012-13 season was a great year for Indiana, not just because they were one of the best teams in the Big Ten, but just because of the fact they were relevant.
Indiana fan’s have high expectations for their basketball team, as they should considering their proud tradition of winning. If you asked any Indiana in the last decade what they wanted most they would say to be relevant again.
That is what Tom Crean did last year. He returned proud Indiana basketball to relevance. They won 27 games and made it to the Sweet 16, but they also returned excitement to Bloomington.
This year though, he has a new challenge and raised expectations. Last year all the fans would have wanted was to get to .500. Now it is almost National Title or bust for Crean and Indiana. They return arguably the best player in the country in Cody Zeller, along with all four other starters. On paper Indiana is the best team in the nation.
However, as every college basketball fan knows the game isn’t played on paper, but on the floor in front of millions by 19 and 20 year old kids. That is why college basketball is so unpredictable. Last year Indiana was the upset king, beating top ranked Kentucky at home on a buzzer beater as well as second ranked Ohio State and fifth ranked Michigan State.
The tables turn for Indiana this year, as they go from the hunters to the hunted.
Every lower ranked opponent will want to be the team to shock the world by beating big Indiana. That is where the fear of the “sophomore slump” comes in for Crean. It isn’t his second season coaching Indiana, but it is his second season playing meaningful games and being a contender.
It is a lot easier to get to the top than to stay at the top. These days, with all of the “one and done players” in college basketball there is not very much continuity. It is very rare for a team to return all five starters like Indiana is. There will be more pressure on this team and Crean. They are no longer just a fun team who is improved, they are THE team to beat. The fans will expect a title and winning some big regular season games won’t do it for them.
Crean came to Indiana to build it back up. He has built it, now he must protect it because every team wants to tear them down. The saying goes “the higher you are the harder you fall”. Tom Crean wants to avoid that fall. It might just be a special year for Indiana this season. But if it isn’t and things start poorly Crean could lose his way out of Hoosiers fans hearts quickly, and he better watch out for that fall. Indiana fans tasted winning again last year, and like sharks, once they get it they need more of it or they will not be happy.