Indiana University has historically had great success in NCAA men’s basketball. In fact, the Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season title as recently as the 2012-13 season. However, it is safe to say that all is not well in Indiana. IU is an NCAA program at a crossroads.
A couple of exceptions not withstanding, recent Indiana teams have not been able to attain the success of some of their great predecessors. As a program, Indiana has finished first in the Big Ten 21 times. In addition, IU has won the NCAA Tourney five times. In 1975-76, Indiana managed to go undefeated.
Yet in recent times, IU has had its share of ups and downs. Head Coach Tom Crean guided the Hoosiers to back-to-back seasons of over 25 wins during two of his years in Bloomington. However, other than those two seasons, things have not gone particularly well in the win-loss column. This season, the Hoosiers barely stayed over .500 at 17-15. Even worse, IU won less than half its games in three of Crean’s six seasons as a head coach. In his first season, the Hoosiers went an abysmal 6-25.
While Crean might certainly be given a little slack for a poor first season, it is difficult to get around the fact that his time at Indiana has seen mixed results. Indiana has certainly had success during Crean’s tenure that it can build on, but there has yet to be much consistency. Sports fans are not known for their patience, in many cases, and a couple of good seasons among several mediocre years will not keep a coach off the hot-seat for long.
It would seem that Indiana’s men’s NCAA basketball program is at a crossroads. This year, IU has run into some trouble even after its season has concluded. It is expected that forward Noah Vonleh will enter the NBA draft. Vonleh came in as the highest rated recruit so far in Crean’s time at Indiana. As a freshman, he averaged 11.3 points, nine rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game, while shooting over fifty percent from the field. Vonleh is a versatile player and has the body size to impact the game in multiple ways.
While it would certainly be nice for IU if Vonleh had decided to stay, his leaving was not exactly a surprise. The rash of transfers that Indiana has had to endure is another thing entirely. Unexpected events such as this can be hard to plan for.
Two of the players that have requested a transfer are Austin Etherington and Jeremy Hollowell. Hollowell had potential, but had to deal with his share of problems and did not exactly live up to expectations. While it is not like Indiana is losing any superstars, transfers hurt from a depth perspective at the very least. More importantly, they do not help to build a positive perception of the program, despite the fact that transfers are fairly common in the NCAA.
When a program falls into multiple seasons of inconsistency, it can be hard for it to get back on its feet. Therefore, answers are not always easy to come by. There is a tendency to blame a team’s failings on the coach and that is sometimes valid. The problem is, getting a new coach brings difficulties all its own as the program and players go through a transitional period. Therefore, a coaching change would only be a move to go to as a last resort.
Indiana’s NCAA men’s basketball program is at a crossroads. Next season will likely determine the direction the program takes in the short term. A sub-par year might well result in significant changes.
Commentary By Zach Kirkman