... make it slow and we'll come together fine. All we need is just a little patience ...
We're seven games into Tom Crean's third season of Big Ten play as the Indiana basketball coach. The Hoosiers have not performed as well as most expected them to thus far in 2011, and many critics began to circle like vultures in early January. The past two performances prior to Sunday's loss to Iowa may have quieted them for the time being, but a remaining Big Ten slate that is likely to yield only a handful more wins could ramp things up from the skeptics heading into the summer.
It's just still so premature. In order to see this, one need only examine the special circumstances and what is potentially on the horizon.
Tom Crean took the coaching job at Indiana University April 1, 2008. What followed with the roster was nearly unprecedented in major college basketball. Defections, graduations and dismissals left Crean with just two returning players. Kyle Taber, who averaged 1.3 points per game as a junior, and Brett Finkelmeier, who brought back 1.6 minutes per game of experience. That was it.
Simply put, Crean was starting a program from scratch. In the Big Ten. You can talk about Indiana's history all you want; that doesn't mean anything. You can talk about how quickly John Calipari resurrected Kentucky, but he had Patrick Patterson to build around -- not to mention the recruits who came with him and the fact that he wasn't handcuffed by probation.
Really, the only recent situation even remotely comparable is what Scott Drew faced at Baylor. The events leading up to the coaching change were much different, but the rebuilding projects were similar. Actually, Drew had it much easier on that front. Baylor fans don't expect what Indiana fans do. Not even in the same ballpark.
Where Drew did have it worse was the recruiting restrictions extended much further. Still, Crean is just now getting to the point where he isn't feeling the restrictions moving forward.
Most reasonable fans would concede all these points, one would hope.
And here's what Scott Drew's project looked like:
Year 1: 8-21, 3-13 conference
Year 2: 9-19, 1-15
Year 3: 4-13, 4-12
Year 4: 15-16, 4-12
Year 5: 21-11, 9-7
Here is Crean's:
Year 1: 6-25, 1-17
Year 2: 10-21, 4-14
Year 3: 10-10, 1-6
As you can see, Drew was finally somewhat competitive in his fourth season and broke through in Year 5. Realistically, we should probably drop the third season under Drew, since Baylor was found to have committed additional violations under the previous regime and was not allowed to play any non-conference games. Thus, slide Indiana's current season next to the Year 4 slot for Baylor. I can see IU winning three or four more games. That means the two situations seem rather comparable. We now know that in Drew's seventh season, the Bears went all the way to the Elite Eight. Crean has a shot to follow in that path.
The reason Crean's Hoosiers have struggled thus far in his tenure is no big mystery. They simply don't have enough talent to consistently compete in one of the nation's strongest conferences. That talent is starting to come, as a good sophomore class is beginning to show signs of life -- though Maurice Creek's awful fortunes with his knee have severely hampered progress. There are inconsistencies that probably shouldn't be there, but then you'll see things like the 19-point win over the same Michigan team that took No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Kansas to the limit. Or playing Minnesota just as tight in the The Barn as Purdue did. Or playing with Wisconsin for 39 minutes Thursday night in the Kohl Center (where Wisconsin is an astounding 147-11 under Bo Ryan).
With sophomores Christian Waford, Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston alongside freshmen Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey -- and hopefully someday a healthy Creek -- Crean has a base he can build upon in the next two seasons. And he's been building on the recruiting trail.
Consensus top-20 recruit Cody Zeller joins the Hoosiers next season. Highly-touted recruits Peter Jurkin, Hanner Perea, Ron Patterson and Yogi Ferrell are all on the board for the following season -- a season which will likely see Hulls, Watford, Elston and Creek play together as seniors. There are still a few big names mulling over joining this group, too. We're not going to go into prediction mode, but that's a very solid roster for any conference, should most things go as planned. You can't bank on best-case scenarios, but there's realistically enough volume in talent to achieve good things even with shortfall in a few areas. There are several highly-ranked recruits committed for the following two seasons as well, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves -- and many things can change before then.
The main point is that Crean is building the program back to respectability. Those who thought it was a two- or even three-year project weren't being realistic. Again, consider the starting point and having to sell kids on coming and taking some serious lumps for two seasons before even having a shot at being competitive. Not many could recruit in that landscape. But Crean's doing it now, so everyone just needs to wait for the proper troops to get to town before being ready to dive off the bandwagon.
There are those who will denigrate Crean's coaching resume and say he only had a decent-sized name because he rode Dwyane Wade to a Final Four. Fine, take that season away. Crean transitioned Marquette into the Big East -- widely considered the top basketball conference -- and went 31-19 in the Golden Eagles' first three seasons of play, finishing in the top third of the conference all three seasons. Wade was already a millionaire in the NBA when that was happening.
The people who don't believe Crean is the man for the job are expecting too much, too fast under the circumstances. If things aren't going well by 2013, by all means, let's start to pounce on the guy. In five years, he should have the team to middle-of-the-pack in the Big Ten, if not much better.
And just in case you don't believe in patience -- as Axl Rose, who grew up in the state of Indiana, does -- Mike Krzyzewski was 11-17 with a 3-11 conference record his third season at Duke. And he wasn't taking over the mess Crean was. Don't misconstrue this as a comparison. It's simply an illustration that a rush to judgment can be folly.
... take it slow, things will be just fine ... You and I'll just use a little patience