Whenever anyone talks about Indiana's 17-15 season from a year ago, one that ended with the Hoosiers on the outside looking in for postseason play, the conversation usually comes around to scheduling.
The critics will say there were way too many games against teams like Kennesaw State, North Florida, Chicago State and Samford and less against more marquee schools that can help beef up a team's strength of schedule ranking.
In an exclusive interview with AllHoosiers.com this week, Tom Crean addressed the schedule giving his thoughts on what happened a year ago and how he sees the schedule working out in the future.
Crean said that in many ways last year's schedule was an anomaly. He said one aspect of scheduling that is most difficult is projecting where you think certain teams are going to be in terms of level of competition.
He also said it's important what teams you beat, too. He said if IU had beaten Connecticut and Notre Dame, for example, he's not sure that there is as much conversation that goes on about IU's schedule.
"If we win the Notre Dame, if we win the UConn game, I don't think these questions even come up,'' Crean said. "But again, some of the other teams have better wins against better teams.''
Crean said it comes down to balance. If you're playing too many teams outside of the RPI 250 for example that's not a good thing. Crean said some of that is projecting where you think teams are going to be. He said you take guesses and sometimes it doesn't always work out the way you thought it would work out.
"So I think there's a balance to it,''Crean said. "I think you can get too many (low end teams) and I think that's what happened this year. We had too many that were really on the lower end. I think you've got to watch that. And in retrospect there were a couple of them where we would have been better off playing a Division II team where it doesn't count. But then are you going to sell that?
"So really I think it was an anomaly with that based on the way some teams played. We knew we were going to have a young team so we wanted to make sure we had enough confidence with wins.''
Crean also made a point to talk about how flexibility makes it much easier in terms of scheduling and sometimes being tied into certain games can hurt that flexibility. IU has the ACC/Big Ten Challenge every year on certain dates. The same is true for the Crossroads Classic.
"The Crossroads Classic is always going to take some flexibility,'' Crean said. " It just is. But is it good for the state of Indiana? Is it good for college basketball? I guess it is. It is. So we'll do it. But the bottom line is we've got to continue to have some flexibility. Right now you have a built in with the Big Ten/ACC. It still remains to be seen what is going to happen with the Big East (vs. the Big Ten). So that takes away your flexibility just a little bit. You want to continue to make sure you're doing the right stuff for your home base and at the same time for your strength of schedule.''
Unfortunately, the commitment to the Crossroads Classic may have prevented Indiana from participating in a blockbuster four-team doubleheader annually. Indiana was approached to play in a series that would also include Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA beginning in December of 2014. This year's event will be at the United Center in Chicago. Next year it will be in New York City and the following year in Las Vegas.
But this season's game is scheduled for the weekend before Christmas which is Dec. 20 or 21. Indiana is already scheduled to play Butler on Dec. 20 in the Crossroads Classic and the classic wasn't able to move the dates so IU lost out on a unique opportunity. Instead, Ohio State will be the fourth team.
"We had an opportunity to do something with Kentucky, UCLA and with Carolina but the dates on the Crossroads are not going to move,'' Crean said. "So it doesn't happen. That was one of the things that we were potentially holding on. So I think Ohio State is there. So Ohio State had more flexibility than we had. It was about TV dates. So sometimes you hold on those types of things to try and make them happen so it's flexibility.''
Next year's schedule should have a home game in the ACC/Big Ten, a neutral court matchup against Louisville in the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden, the Crossroads Classic game with Butler, and four-game invitational that will wrap up with IU playing SMU in Assembly Hall.
Crean did say he is interested in playing more in-state Division I competition. But he said IU's schedule really doesn't allow for the Hoosiers to return the game on the road. He said Evansville a few years ago was a unique opportunity because the Purple Aces had a new downtown arena. So he said the interest is there, it just has to be the right situation."I think we're interested in that. Absolutely,'' Crean said. "But if everyone is looking for the return game, that's the problem. We just don't have as much flexibility on home and homes so if you're going to do something with home and homes it would probably have to have a great deal of marquee value unless you were really trying to take someone back to an area. Like the fortunate thing for us right now is that we're going to Maryland next year. We have kids who want to get back to that area. But if you're going to Maryland, and you know that ahead of time, that allows you a little bit more flexibility with your home schedule.
" I don't think any of us are opposed to (playing Indiana schools). I'd be very interested in that part of it unless a school is looking for us to be able to return a game because I don't think we're going to be able to do that right now. I don't think that's in the cards.''
Crean said he hasn't thought much about the 2015 Big Ten schedule beyond what road trips IU will make. The Hoosiers ‘ road games next season will be at Michigan State, Maryland, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers, Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin. The home only foes will be Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Penn State.
He pointed to a chart in the back of the conference room that showed the recruiting calendar and how many days IU can be on the road.
"That's the calendar I'm more worried about right now,'' Crean said. "How many more days we have left in recruiting and keeping that tracked as far as maxing out our 130 days. The (other) calendar we'll get to.''