There was some thought heading into the season that if Indiana underachieved this season, it might signal the end of the Tom Crean era in Bloomington. Well, after 17 games, the Hoosiers are starting to play up to expectations and the rumors of Crean losing his job are being quelled.
The Hoosiers are now 13-4 and 3-1 in the Big Ten, and looking like a team that will be playing in March— and with a possible nice seed to boot. This all comes after some turmoil early in the season (which we’ll get to later). Nonetheless, Indiana is now poised to contend for a conference championship crown come March.
After a so-so 2013-14 season that ended with a 17-15 record and no NCAA Tournament appearance (Indiana also did not even receive an NIT invite and declined to participate in the College Basketball Invitational), Crean was said to be on thin ice. This was coming off a year in which the Hoosiers were a No.1 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament that lost in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse. You have to realize, though, the team lost stars like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, among others, from the 2012-13 squad.
So, Indiana could be excused for not playing at high level last year, as it was a transition year for the Hoosiers. That made making the most of this season paramount for Crean and his job security.
With junior point guard Yogi Ferrell now developing into a seasoned leader, the Hoosiers are starting to make people in Bloomington believe that they could make some noise in March once again. Ferrell leads the team in assists (4.8 apg, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten) while coming in second on the team in scoring with 15.4 points per game.
Ferrell is great at dictating tempo and letting the game come to him while not pushing the issue. For Crean, Ferrell is like an extension of a coach out on the court.
Freshman James Blackmon Jr. has given the program a tremendous boost, too. As a highly-regarded recruit, Blackmon Jr. has come in and provided Crean with a natural scorer they can rely on. Blackmon Jr. is leading the team in scoring with 16.4 points per game while also chipping in 5.6 rebounds per game and shooting .424 percent from the floor, .871 from the free-throw line and .400 percent from three-point range.
Blackmon Jr’s ability to score from anywhere on the court has been a welcome relief for Crean, who failed to get much out of his young team last year. While Noah Vonleh was a gifted player on last year’s squad, he proved to be too inconsistent as a freshman and is a player that could have definitely used an extra year of college. Vonleh is just languishing on the Charlotte Hornets bench at the moment.
With Ferrell and Blackmon Jr. proving to be quite the duo, Indiana is—while not exactly thriving(I mean, it’s not like they are in the top-25 or anything),—they are at least turning some heads and are on a trajectory toward a successful season. They did knock off Ohio State(which was ranked at the time) on Saturday while also beating Butler, Pittsburgh and SMU in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Considering it has an RPI of 58(according to kenpom.com), Indiana would appear to be on the bubble. However, both Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com and Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com, currently have the Hoosiers making the tournament.
It wasn’t all easy for Crean early on, though. Earlier in the season Crean suspended Troy Williams(who is third on the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game) and Stanford Robinson a couple of games for failing drug tests. Meanwhile, Emmitt Holt was also suspended after it was found he was drinking under the age while being part of an accident in which fellow teammate Devin Davis was injured and wound up in serious condition.
However, the team has risen above those transgressions and is putting its best foot forward. A return trip to the NCAA Tournament is looking more and more likely these days. And it hasn’t come at better time for Crean, who has done a good job of answering some of his critics with his team’s actions on the court.