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Indiana stuck at home watching NCAA tourney, but solution to Hoosiers' coaching woes is coming to town

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The entire 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament is scheduled to be played in the state of Indiana, including six games inside Assembly Hall on the campus of Indiana University.

The Hoosiers, though, won’t be playing. They missed the tournament again. They haven’t been since 2015.

Perhaps the combination of the in-your-face, literally, in-your-gym nature of the tourney combined with the once-unfathomable March Madness drought for one of the sport's most successful programs (five national titles) was just too much to bear.

Or at least it was for one fan, who, IU athletic director Scott Dolson revealed, footed the $10 million bill to buy coach Archie Miller out of his contract.

Dolson said he had already decided that Miller, who finished 10 games under .500 in Big Ten play in five seasons, had to go. That it took one booster to deliver the money needed speaks to the frustration.

Indiana hasn’t been Indiana in a long time — just one Final Four since 1993. But there is no reason it can’t be again. The tradition is there. The passion is there. The facilities are there.

Indiana head coach Archie Miller reacts to a call from the side line against Illinois in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)
Indiana head coach Archie Miller reacts to a call from the side line against Illinois in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)

And, most importantly, the players are there. Indiana itself, and Indianapolis in particular, remains loaded with high-end talent. So do the surrounding cities and states. In this tourney alone, Michigan and Illinois are top seeds, Ohio State and Iowa are No. 2 seeds and Purdue is a No. 4 seed. All are fueled by Midwestern talent, many of whom could have matriculated in Bloomington.

There is nothing wrong with IU except it needs the right coach.

Hoosiers fans can dream of luring former Butler coach Brad Stevens back from the Boston Celtics but that’s a pipe dream. Stevens has never expressed any interest in returning to the college game. Even if his tenure with the Celtics didn’t work out, half a dozen NBA teams would look to hire him.

Which brings everything back to the unique nature of this tournament, and the obvious object of Hoosier desire that leads his top-seeded team into Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday to begin a potential run at a national title.

Baylor coach Scott Drew.

The 50-year-old Drew attended high school in Valparaiso, where his father, Homer, was a popular, longtime local college coach (and brother, Bryce, was a NCAA tourney legend). He attended Butler and later succeeded his dad for one season at VU before taking over a scandal-plagued Baylor team. Over the past 18 seasons, he’s slowly built a powerhouse program.

He’s done it through consistent positivity, player development (little NBA talent of note) and a relentless consistency of effort.

“It’s really important to me that we have an identity,” Dolson said. “That when players around the country look at Indiana basketball they understand what it is.”

Drew has done that at Baylor, a place players around the country, let alone around Texas, almost never cared to look at before he arrived.

There are very few reasons the Bears should be this good. There are very few why the Hoosiers should be this average. It’s why there is absolutely no doubt Drew would be ideal for Indiana. The question is whether Indiana can lure him away from Waco, a once-unfathomable concept that is a real challenge now.

Drew has eschewed increasingly appealing job offers since he began turning Baylor around. What others couldn’t see there, he did. When others wondered why he’d stay, he wondered why he’d ever leave.

 Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears coaches from the bench
Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

He and his family love Central Texas and he appreciates both what he means to the school and the school means to him. There is no indication that Drew is looking to leave or even listen.

This is Bloomington though. This might be different.

If nothing else, Drew is back in the area, back in the state he grew up and the city that he attended college. He is well aware of not just the tradition of IU, but the potential and intensity of everything it represents.

For all of Miller’s struggles, the infrastructure and commitment to winning is in place. Anytime someone is cutting an eight-figure check to fund a coaching change, the place doesn't just want to be successful, it has to be successful.

“This is an opportunity for someone to come in and have some wind behind their back,” Dolson said.

It is. This is a stalled-out program, not a dead one. It just needs a savior. It just needs the right guy.

Drew isn’t the only possibility, of course. John Beilein is talking on the Big Ten Network now. Texas Tech’s Chris Beard is a former Bob Knight assistant. Tony Bennett stayed at Virginia last time, but now? UCLA’s Mick Cronin is an Ohio guy. So is Ohio University coach Jeff Boals, who plays in Assembly Hall himself on Friday, in case the mid-major route is appealing. Even Rick Pitino is back, if you dare.

Dolson won’t lack for candidates of all ages and backgrounds.

The most obvious though has his unlikely No. 1 seed playing in Indy on Friday, national title in its sights, the way Indiana used to do it. He's looking to stick around for the next few weeks.

Maybe longer if Scott Dolson can somehow talk Scott Drew into it.

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