ATLANTA — On both his postgame radio spot and the coach’s formal postgame interview session, Indiana coach Tom Crean talked about next season.
With speculation swirling about the future of IU’s basketball coach in the national media and among IU fans, Crean’s comments were squarely focused on the offseason, improvements for next season and recruiting.
Ranked No. 3 in the nation on Nov. 21, Indiana ended its 2016-17 season 18-16 after Tuesday night’s 75-63 loss at Georgia Tech in the first round of the NIT.
Indiana missed the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years and for the fifth time in Crean’s nine years, although no one expected NCAA berths in the early stages of the rebuild.
IU also has reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament three times in five seasons but not gone beyond.
Indiana, which has five national titles, has been past the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament one time since 1993, its 2002 national runner-up squad.
In the postgame, Crean discussed the positives — two outright Big Ten titles in a four-year span, wins this season over two No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds in Kansas and North Carolina — and
IU athletic director Fred Glass was in attendance but did not make any public statements.
(SEE ALSO: Watch: Tom Crean's complete postgame video Q&A)
Nationally, speculation swirls.
“Indiana just lost to Georgia Tech in the NIT.
Crean discussed the offseason and next season.
“I hope it’s a disappointed locker room,” Crean said on his postgame radio spot. “Everyone gets to make a response. What I told them is what goes in your mind, in your head, it can’t go in your heart. Your heart, you control. … Your response to a season that had so much positivity, so many things happened, so many tales in the season. …
“Second Big Ten title in four
“There are guys in there who won a championship. We beat two No. 1s, those are facts. We didn’t have the record we wanted to have. … Tonight was kind of a tale of the season.”
IU radio voice Don Fischer asked about how leadership improves: “Recruit. Recruit is one thing, and that’s part of it. The other part of it is, we have to grow. There are things I’m already planning to do in the offseason. The bottom line is we have to improve … in awareness, decision making, guys have to get better.
“The lineup you saw tonight, the starting lineup, I can’t say that is a starting lineup I would be happy to bring to the floor in a year.”
Crean continued: “There are things I’m already planning we do in the offseason. … We had a leader. He was tremendous. He got hurt before the season. That’s not an excuse. That’s a fact, too. … It’s a fact no one was able to step and take that.
Crean later added: “The program is in great shape. The team needs to get better. I don’t think you win two championships in four years if the program is in great shape.”
Crean said IU needs to become a better downhill team and better shooting the ball.
“I wouldn’t see another recruit signed here for the future unless they’re really special at certain things unless they can really shoot the ball,” he said.
After his postgame radio spot, Crean made his way to the press room on the second level of McCamish Pavilion.
Asked about how IU gets it done, Crean said: “We’ve done it before … we overcame it before.”
He also added: “No matter what’s on a contract, I’m going to coach the same way, whether it’s one year or 10. … The examination starts with me,” he said. “What needs to get better and let’s roll.”
Crean has three years remaining on his contract. If IU were to fire him, it would owe him $4 million minus whatever income he makes prior to 2020.
“I’m proud of the resiliency of this team this year,” Crean said. “Obviously the record wasn’t what we wanted. We had great wins. We had tough losses. We were in a ton of games that didn’t go our way at the very end. We’ve got to learn and grow from that.
“The program is in great shape. The team has to get better. There’s so much good structure with what we have, but our team wasn’t where it needed to be.
“I don’t think you win two championships in four years and not have a really strong program. But obviously facts are facts, and our team wasn’t as good.
“We’ve got to improve that. The guys that are going to be back have got to get better. The new guys that we’ll get have got to get better.
“I’ve got to get better. Everybody has to get better. That’s our plan.”