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Under Tom Crean's frenetic guidance, Hoosiers keep cool heads to win Big Ten title outright

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Jordan Morgan's potential game-winning tip bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced and finally rolled off the rim, the final gasp of this gloriously intense test of wills with the improbable final score: Indiana 72, Michigan 71.

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Tom Crean directs his team from the bench during the second half. (AP)

The Hoosiers had a stunning, final-minute, come-from-behind victory for their first outright Big Ten title in two decades. Michigan, meanwhile, was left with a crushing loss – a five-point lead gone across the last 38 seconds – and a stadium full of shrieks of disbelief after Morgan's miss.

Right in the middle of it all was Tom Crean. He's the one who rebuilt the Indiana program. The coach who connects and teaches his guys as well as anyone in college hoops. The sideline force of nature who, there is no denying, tends to rub a lot of people not wearing Crimson and Cream the wrong way.

That would soon include Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer, once a part of Kelvin Sampson's IU staff – a group Crean has routinely targeted as responsible for leaving him an unprecedented mess.

In the chaos of the postgame handshake line, the two first exchanged words, then angry words, then backs bowed up in each others' faces angrier words during a prolonged interaction as they each rapidly – and ridiculously – patted the other on the back.

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The dustup in front of the Wolverine bench was soon pushed aside, the handshake line continuing on, only to be resumed later near midcourt with Indiana assistant Tim Buckley forced to get between the two as more shouting, finger pointing and posturing – mostly at this point by Crean – was done.

"You know what you did! You helped wreck the program! You helped wreck our program!" Crean shouted on video caught by Indianapolis' WRTV-TV. Eventually they were separated peacefully.

"It's a heated game," Crean said after about the altercation with Meyer.

"It's a heated game. Ask him."

Michigan didn't make Meyer available for asking.

It wasn't the biggest deal. It was just the latest and certainly not the last involving Crean, a coach as emotional as he is effective.

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Tom Crean and Victor Oladipo embrace after Indiana's win. (AP)

And if you're prone to not like him, it's the latter that should be most troubling because Crean isn't changing a damn thing. His IU program, mentally tough, primed for the NCAA Tournament and with another load of recruits arriving next season, aren't about to stop winning anytime soon.

You might as well get used to the new bully of the Big Ten.

Across five years at Indiana, Crean has developed a reputation as the coach most likely to fire up his rival coaches, pace around the sideline in a fury, boldly clip down championship nets even after a loss and have his players accused of flopping [and even faking low-blows].

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Such as Sunday when, immediately after arguing with the other team's assistant coach, he flipped a mental switch and joyously ran full speed across the court and into the crowd behind the IU bench for bear hugs with his sister and mother, only to promptly return to the court and begin tearing up during a television interview while discussing his players. He eventually had to put his head down and breath deeply to keep it all together.

"That's private," he said. "That's us. We go through a lot … I think what did it for me was when I saw Victor [Oladipo] and saw how emotional he was."

He's the full tornado of action and reaction, only with the uncommon ability to get college kids to handle even the most stressful of situations with aplomb.

And down five in the final minute, with Crisler Arena hitting jet-engine decibels as the Wolverines were about to grab a share of the league title and send IU to its third loss in four games is about stressful as it gets.

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In a college game awash in unforced errors, mind-blowing miscues and – be it the head coach or the freshman point guard – widespread panic and confusion, Indiana was like an assassin executing a cold-blooded basketball homicide.

With 38 seconds left, Michigan led by five. The Hoosiers scored on a set play, fouled Michigan (which missed the free throw), scored on two free throws from another set play, fouled Michigan again (which missed the free throw), scored on another set play and then survived the final flurry – all without ever using a timeout, which smartly prevented the Wolverines, who had burned all of theirs, a chance to regroup amidst the collapse.

In the control-freak NCAA, Crean won the game with three timeouts in his pocket. His guys listened and knew what to do. The coach trusted them. Someone go warm up the bus.

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Tom Crean reacts after Indiana's win Sunday. (Getty)

"We never got down," Crean said. "There was never that look-away look. There was never anything but being locked in the moment … we continued to play the end of the game the way we played [the rest of] the game."

Which at this level is the surest sign of a top-line teacher, of a program built to last and of a team that's oh-so dangerous in the coming weeks. Crean spoke proudly of it all coming together, citing an old Bob Knight book about the perfect 1976 Hoosiers and a passage about how it's not a team's level of experience that matters, but their level of understanding.

"It was a Eureka moment for me," he said of reading it.

So yeah, maybe he looks out of control on that sideline but his team sure isn't. Crean came to Indiana in 2008 and over his first three seasons the sanction-riddled, player-short program won just eight conference games. He's won 25 across the past two years and isn't slowing down – and more star talent en route for a 46-year-old on top of his game.

The guy never stops. Never stops recruiting. Never stops coaching. Never stops plotting. Never stops, it seems, talking. He's a self-made coach, bulldogging his way up from graduate assistant at Michigan State to running one of the most storied programs in college hoops.

He's kicked down a million doors, his force of will driving him and his program to the top. He isn't going to act differently on the sideline or postgame or anywhere, no matter who gets offended. He may have married into the Harbaugh family (his wife Joanie is Jim and John's younger sister) but he sure seems to fit perfectly.

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About the only thing he didn't see coming was the tears on the court as he spoke of cherishing each moment with his players.

"I really didn't want to get emotional," he said. "I just couldn't help it."

Nah, he couldn't. And he can't. And he won't the next time there is some flair-up, some controversy, some ruffled feathers somewhere. Who's right and who's wrong hardly matters at this point.

"We're not apologizing for anything," Crean said postgame from a back hall of Crisler. "Not a thing."

Not anymore.

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