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Uncertainty looms as Indiana opens Big Ten Tournament play

Indiana opens Big Ten Tournament play tonight at 6:30 Eastern against Iowa, but the big question in Hoosiers Nation isn't about the game, it is about the future of IU coach Tom Crean, who is being eyed very seriously by Missouri.

Indiana opens play in the Big Ten Tournament today, facing Iowa at 6:30 p.m. in the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

The Hoosiers are sitting at 17-14 overall, including a 7-11 Big Ten record.

As odd as it may seem looking at IU's Big Ten record, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has IU among the teams hovering just outside the NCAA Tournament bubble, so a couple wins could make things interesting on that front.

The main topic of conversation in Hoosier Nation, however, is not the game. It’s not even what the Hoosiers need to do to salvage an NCAA Tournament berth from a season that has been sliding for a while.

No, the biggest question at the moment for Indiana basketball is what will the future hold for IU coach Tom Crean?

Industry sources tell Peegs.com Missouri is serious about its interest in Crean and is prepared to move quickly if the necessary mutual interest exists at the appropriate time.

The Tigers are replacing Kim Anderson, dismissed after three consecutive 20-loss seasons. While that dismissal became public on Sunday, it was well known in coaching circles prior to that date that the opening would occur.

Missouri’s approach to the future of its basketball program has been thoughtful, organized and well-structured, industry sources tell Peegs.com.

The Tigers have been preparing to be capable of offering a coach in the range of $3 million per year and five to seven years in length, industry sources tell Peegs.com.

(SEE ALSO: A note on some things | Pregame comments from Tom Crean, IU players | Early lineup shakeup in the first IU game turned things around late for Iowa | "There's no panic because they've been in so many close situations.")

Crean’s contract at IU currently runs through 2020, although schools and coaches can mutually agree on parting terms, if both parties so desire, as Memphis did with Josh Pastner, now the Georgia Tech coach.

There is plenty for Missouri to find appealing with Crean.

The past five-plus years, Indiana leads the Big Ten in wins over ranked opponents (25) and is tied with Duke for wins over top-three teams (six).

The 2016 Big Ten Coach of the Year, Crean has led the Hoosiers to a pair of Big Ten regular-season titles and three Sweet Sixteen appearances the past five seasons. 

Five players Crean coached at IU have been on NBA rosters this season — Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Noah Vonleh, Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams — so player development is obvious.

And two of IU’s main players this season, when fully healthy, were OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, both Missouri high school standouts. Anunoby entered the season as the No. 1-rated NBA prospect in the Big Ten by DraftExpress.

All of that is what is sitting just off stage as 10th-seeded IU faces No. 7 seed Iowa (18-13, 10-8 Big Ten) tonight (6:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2).

The game does provide plenty of basketball intrigue.

Iowa forward Peter Jok went 22-for-23 from the foul line when the Hawkeyes beat the Hoosiers 96-90 in overtime on Feb. 21 at home. In the three games since then, Jok hasn’t attempted more than six free throws in a game.

Can the Hoosiers defend the All-Big Ten player yet keep him from an inordinate number of free throws?

Iowa presses and likes to play fast. The Hawkeyes are No. 1 in the Big Ten in tempo and No. 2 in steal percentage.

Indiana is seventh in the league in tempo, last in turnover percentage and last in opponent’s free throw rate (the ratio of free throw attempts allowed per field goal attempts).

“We have to take care of the basketball against their press, whether we are attacking it or whether we are just breaking it,” Crean said. “The next big thing is to not slow down – if we have attacked it, we have attacked it and not slow down. The more you don’t allow (Iowa) to setup their zone, the better it is for you. The other big thing is the rebounding.

 “If you go back and look at it, Peter Jok has shot 12 free throws in the games since he shot 22 against us. We have to do a great job of keeping them off the foul line, a lot better than what we did there.”

The Hoosiers, who have won two of their past three and scored an opposing-team record for points at Ohio State’s Value City Arena on Saturday in a 96-92 win, are No. 1 in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency.

Robert Johnson scored 26 points, a career-high for him in regulation — he had 27 in IU’s triple-overtime win against Penn State — James Blackmon Jr. had 22 and Josh Newkirk 18 as IU’s starting backcourt accounted for 60 of its 96 points.

Blackmon and center Thomas Bryant were named Third Team All-Big Ten.

“Indiana is a really good basketball team. You look at their speed and quickness in the backcourt, it's phenomenal,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

“You look at a guy like Bryant, obviously he's as good as any big man in the country. I think (Juwan) Morgan was hurt for a couple games, he's back. He's tremendous. Really athletic, versatile. (De’Ron) Davis is another big body, and then you can play the bigs together if you want to or you can go small.

“Freddie McSwain is playing really well. He gives them another dimension, a guy who can guard the point guard and guard the center. Very few guys can do that. (Devonte) Green is playing extremely well off the bench, and he's started a couple times, and he's scoring the ball.

“So you have multiple scoring options. You have size, you have athleticism on the wings. You have a guy like (Zach) McRoberts and a great coach.”


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