October 13, 2009
The Hunt for the Most Interesting Team in the World is the Dagger's 2009-10 countdown preview series. Check out the overriding principles here.
Last year's record: 6-25, (1-17 Big Ten)
2009-2010's toughest games: vs. Kentucky, at Ohio State, vs. Michigan State, at Purdue
Primary attraction: Can Tom Crean's boundless energy -- and the Big Ten's best recruiting class -- get the Hoosiers back to respectability in year two?
Three items of undeniable interest:
1. That elusive second conference win. Everyone knows Indiana's story: The 2008-09 Hoosiers returned a single scholarship player from Kelvin Sampson's regime, which ended thanks to Sampson's itchy phone finger. That player was Kyle Taber, who barely cracked the scoresheet before his by-default promotion to a starting spot last year. IU was bad. But few Indiana fans would have been able to fathom the depths the Hoosiers would sink to. IU fought hard all year, sure, but simply had no talent; the team's only conference win came over hapless Iowa, sending IU fans into a temporary frenzy. The whole thing was surreal. Imagine if NJIT was one of the best college programs of all-time with one of its most rabid fan bases, and you can gather some inkling of just how weird the moment really was.
2. Tom Crean's Diet Coke diet. It's a habit to make Kanye West proud: Tom Crean drinks an insane amount of Diet Coke every day. It fuels him. And not just on the off hours: Indiana's trainers keep a cooler full of Diet Coke on the sideline for Crean throughout IU games. The downside is that Crean's intestines are probably coated with high fructose corn syrup. The upshot is that Crean is more energetic than even most of his contemporaries, and when you consider the kind of person that the coaching profession attracts, you realize how ridiculous this is. It's also a good thing, at least for IU fans: Few coaches will outwork Crean. That's one reason the Hoosiers were even respectable in certain Big Ten contests last year, and it's also why Crean has managed to compete for some of the top recruits in the country at a program so devastated by attrition and scandal.
3. Oh yeah, those recruits. Speaking of that recruiting class, Crean managed to a wrangle a variety of players to Bloomington that can contribute immediately. Tops among them is Christian Watford, whose athleticism the Hoosiers will badly need alongside power forward/center Tom Pritchard, who is a skilled, strong big man but who simply can't elevate and score at a consistently high level. (He really can rebound, though.) Maurice Creek will likely play major minutes as a freshman at shooting guard, and Jordan Hulls, Indiana's Mr. Basketball, is a classic pick-and-roll point guard with a deadly shot. Hulls who skyrocketed up recruiting boards before his senior season. And Jeremiah Rivers, who transferred from Georgetown when Crean first took the job at IU, is a lock down defender who should be able to improve where Verdell Jones, Devan Dumes, and the probably-shouldn't-ever-play-Division-I-minutes-but-that's-just-how-bad-IU-was-last-year Daniel Moore couldn't: perimeter defense.
Whether those recruits are enough to push Indiana over any kind of hump in the next few years -- the very optimistic projection would be akin to when Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore arrived at Purdue -- will be interesting to watch.
Something to do with some guy named Bob Knight:
Knight's shadow still casts a very long glare over Indiana basketball, and that shadow won't go away anytime soon. Even if Crean resurrects the program, Knight will always be a presence. There are good things about this -- it's hard not to enjoy this incredibly not safe for work postgame speech, for example, and of course Knight's coaching acumen is up there with the best ever. There are also the bad. The tantrums, the choking of players, the inability to maintain sanity when some punk kid calls you by your last name on a routine stroll through campus.
In any case, the following clip is probably Knight at his best: Entertaining, smart, funny, and an uncompromising jerk. And, as on the court, always on the top of his game.