For the fourth time in 17 years, Indiana’s men’s basketball program looks for a new leader.
Here are the characteristics I feel a successful candidate should possess.
Tom Crean said all the right things about targeting the state in April 2008, and at first it worked. Crean added eight Indiana recruits from 2012-14. They joined Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston to form a nucleus that would produce both Big Ten titles and the top overall seed in 2013.
Either the philosophy changed after the winning started, or coach Crean suddenly lost his touch. Regardless, Indiana has only received two in-state players in its last four classes (James Blackmon Jr. and Grant Gelon).
The Hoosiers came away empty in the state for 2017, a strong class. Blue-chip prospects Kris Wilkes (UCLA), Paul Scruggs (Xavier), Malik Williams (Louisville) and Jaren Jackson (Michigan State) left, but also players like Jack Nunge (Iowa), Sasha Stefanovic (Purdue), Cooper Neese (Butler) and Jaylen Butz (Dayton) got away.
Nunge, a skilled six-foot-ten forward from Newburgh, Indiana (Castle High), committed last summer. He averaged 22.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.6 spg this past season, leading Castle to the 4A Semistate Championship.
Fran McCaffery came out of nowhere (literally) to make him feel wanted.
“From the beginning, Indiana's recruitment of Jack was lukewarm at best,” relayed Gibson. “Apparently, he did not meet the profile of the kind of player they were looking for, and that is okay, Jack found a nice home.”
One can believe Tom Crean forgot how to recruit talent in the state, or perhaps the staff changed the “profile of the kind of player they were looking for.”
Either way, Nunge will be very good in the Big Ten --- for the Hawkeyes.
On the Floor
There’s more than one way to win basketball games, so playing style isn’t all that important to this writer. But two areas a prospective candidate should show competence are in his teams' proficiency to limit turnovers and play solid defense.
Teams who turn the ball over consistently cannot be trusted to win games against other good-to-great teams in March. Basketball is a game of focus and perfection. Giving away possessions when most games are decided by five possessions or fewer, is often the difference between winning and losing.
Michigan’s 14.1 percent turnover rate was worth just over five more possessions per game when compared to Indiana's 21.5 percent turnover rate.
Of the 16 teams still left in the NCAA Tournament, all but one are ranked among the best 154 teams in terms of turnover rate, according to KenPom. Twelve of the 16 teams who advanced to the second weekend last season had turnover rates ranked among the top 160.
Great offenses sell tickets. But offense generally prove less reliable than defense.
Defense is also less susceptible to youth, inexperience and skill development. Hypothetically, any high-caliber athlete should be able to play defense at a high level and with great effort sooner rather than later.
Experience was missing on almost all of Crean’s nine teams. While the first several seasons were understandable, Indiana’s roster rarely saw seniors. Since the NCAA Tournament in 2013, IU’s ranked 318th in 2013-14, 336th in 2014-15, 162nd in 2015-16, and 305th last season. .
Thrive in a Fishbowl
The mindset of the next coach in Bloomington should also be considered. Personality and charisma would nice to have, but the most important concern should be about a candidate’s ability to handle the media. It’s no secret the next leader will live under a microscope. He’ll need to navigate a rabid fanbase and savvy media coverage. No one admits to caring about the opinion of others, whether accurate or not. But we all do. Some personalities are better at dealing with it than others, and so it should be considered.
As much as he said he knew, I don’t think Tom Crean fully understood what he was walking into on April 1, 2008.
Finally, the next coach should understand scheduling at Indiana: dont be scared. At the very least, stop paying the worst teams in college hoops to come play.
Even with games against UNC (4), Kansas (7), Louisville (9) and Butler (24), Indiana still had just the 307th toughest non-conference schedule across college hoops. Paying the bottom of Division I basketball for a cheap win only hurts RPI and doesn’t prepare the team for the Big Ten slate. There is no team in the conference that Mississippi Valley State resembles. Replacing those with state schools like Valparaiso (103), Indiana State (201), Evansville (154), Ball State (178), IUPUI (199), or Fort Wayne (143) would improve strength of schedule and would serve as a nice PR move. (This writer would also prefer the next coach schedule Kentucky at Rupp Arena, just to send a message.)
Agree, disagree? Send your thoughts to Nick Baumgart