Worgull: The Crean is Starting to Rise

Having nothing except a wry smile and a promise to make Indiana great once again, the first year under former Marquette head coach Tom Crean has been anything but on the surface. Dig deeper and you find that the Hoosiers, led by Crean's grit and attitude, are starting to refill the cabinet.

MADISON – New city. New team. Same welcome.

First-year Indiana coach Tom Crean may be gone from in-state rival Marquette, but his crass behavior, overly tan complexion and humongous ego have not been so easily forgotten simply due to a change of scenery.

The Badger faithful made sure Crean heard them loud and clear. He was feverishly booed during pregame introductions, chided on his walk to and from the locker room during halftime and laughed at after his Hoosier team was throttled 85-61 in front of a packed Kohl Center on Senior Day.

In his first season, the ‘Crean and Crimson,' as the Hoosier fan base have labeled this squad, set program lows for most losses in a season (24 and counting), most conference losses (17) and tied the program mark for the worst home winning percentage (.333) in school history.

The Hoosiers have played 15 games away from Assembly Hall and have won only once (a nail-biting 81-79 victory over Division II Chaminade in November).

"We got guys that are really working," Crean said. "We just don't have a lot of positive results to show for it."

There have been bright spots for Indiana this season without question. Freshman Verdell Jones has had a breakout season for the Hoosiers with 10.1 points per contest and scored a career-high 23 for Indiana on Sunday, using his speed and quickness to score points in transition.

Another freshman guard on the rise is Nick Williams, another Hoosier who registered a career-high on Sunday with his 19 points. Those two combined to score 69 percent of Indiana's points at Wisconsin, a percentage that will probably continue in the coming years.

"They are definitely showing improvements," Crean said of his two guards. "Verdell is getting a lot better and is becoming a bonafied both-ends-of-the-court guy, as is Nick. The minutes they are playing this year are certainly going to be invaluable to them in the future."

JUCO-transfer Devan Dumes leads Indiana in fast-break points and points off turnovers; freshman Tom Pritchard has started all 30 games (the only Hoosier to do so), leading his team in points in the paint and second chance points by a wide margin and the Hoosiers, with just eight scholarship players, have relied heavily on their six walk-ons, who combined for 782 minutes entering Sunday's game.

Taking over a program riddled with sanctions from its former careless head coach, who arguably has the biggest ego of all, and dealing with a team that returned only 185 minutes and 19 points from the 2007-08, there are bound to be plenty of bumps in the road.

Take Sunday as a prime example. The Hoosiers were playing without Dumes (right knee injury) and helped the Badgers cover the 17-point spread by halftime, as Indiana 12 first-half turnovers turned into 15 Wisconsin points.

But give credit where credit is due. The Hoosiers limited their turnovers to just four in the second half, out scored the Badgers in the paint, shot better than 50 percent in both halves and cut the lead down to 12 before IU ran out of gas.

"We settled in to a degree," Crean said of his team's second half. "We just drove the ball and that's one of the things we have to do in order to stay in the game … We knew we were going to have to play outstanding, especially us being undermanned like we were. They just got into our depth or lack there of."

Of Indiana's 17 conference losses, only seven have been by 15 points of more and six have been by six points or less (three of which were on the road).

"They competed very favorably with a lot of teams and maybe short a player or two here or a shot doesn't go there," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "What they've done is play everybody hard and smart, get after it and Tom says this is what I have. That's not all bad. That's good that he got those guys to compete like that."

Crean was left with a barren Assembly Hall with nothing but five national championship banners and a new red tie. But such is the case when the cupboards are bare, Crean has the privilege of shopping for his groceries.

Indiana's six-member 2009 recruiting class is ranked 11th in the country and the best in the Big Ten by Scout.com, boast four four-star recruits and has five players ranked in the top 32 are their position.

"We're building a foundation," Crean said. "Every day, we just want to make sure there are so many different lessons that everybody can learn as to what that foundation is."

Without question the most trying season of his 10-year coaching career, Crean continues to put a positive spin on everything he sees. Choosing more times to look at the glass as half full and not half empty, Crean sees the improvement every day, which helps lessen the massive headache he's gone through this season.

Love him or hate him, Crean is on his way to rebuilding the most storied program in the conference. As soon as his teams learn from games like this one and the parts start to fit together, the Hoosiers are going to be back in the title hunt, with a big assist going to Crean for getting them there.

Which can only mean one thing, his reception in Madison isn't going to get any friendlier.

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