Tom Crean’s career crossroads a result of losing, not his players’ off-court antics

Tom Crean (Getty Images)

The pressure on Tom Crean at Indiana has never been greater than it is right now.

On Monday, news leaked that two sophomores on the team, Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson, were going to be suspended for two games, as well as both exhibition, for failing drug tests over the summer. That came just days after an incident where sophomore Devin Davis was knocked unconscious and hospitalized in serious condition and running into the street and getting hit by a car driven by freshman Emmitt Holt. Holt, who is underage, was drinking and will face legal action as a result. Davis had reportedly been drinking as well.

Back in April, Robinson and star junior Yogi Ferrell were cited for possession fake IDs outside of a bar in Bloomington. That came two months after then-sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea was arrested for drinking and driving. Do the math, and in the span of eight months, six of the players on scholarship at Indiana have either gotten in trouble for drinking violations, failed drug tests or gotten hit by a car driven by their teammate while drinking.

The result?

The star columnist at the biggest paper in Indiana is now calling for Crean’s job. The radio host of one of the most popular shows in the state — a former IU head coach and player — is railing on Crean about the state of the program and how players are allowed to run wild. A national columnist devoted an entire story to the disconnect between Crean and his players. The first question on Crean’s first radio show of the year was a caller asking why Crean still has a job. Ex-players, former teammates of the guys that are currently getting in trouble, are speaking out on social media about what’s going on in Bloomington.

It’s so bad that Crean’s boss, athletic director Fred Glass, has to speak out publicly in defense of his head coach.

“Tom is absolutely not in trouble,” he told the Herald Times. “Tom is part of the solution. He’s not part of the problem.”

That’s probably true. It would tough to fire a coach with a $12 million buyout in November over a couple of failed drug tests from the offseason and a trio of alcohol-related incidents involving dumb college kids.

It wouldn’t be tough to fire that coach if the Hoosiers end up missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, which brings us to the heart of the issue here. The problem here isn’t that Crean’s players are getting in trouble, the problem is that they are getting in trouble on a team that isn’t all that good.

The Hoosier faithful are as intense and passionate as college basketball fans get. That Big Ten title that Crean won in 2013 was supposed to be their return to national relevance. They were supposed to be competing for Big Ten titles and Final Fours and the right to call themselves the best basketball program in Kentuckiana. Instead, they lost in the Sweet 16 despite being a No. 1 seed, followed that up with a 17-15 season and enter 2014-2015 looking like a longshot to make a return to the NCAA tournament.

They’re mad, and frankly, they have a right to be. This is Crean’s seventh season in Bloomington. He was supposed to be the guy that revived this program from the disaster that was the Kelvin Sampson era, and with the exception of one season, he hasn’t done that.

But you can’t tell me the reaction would be this vitriolic if Crean was coming off of a 27-win season where he finished fourth in the Big Ten and made the Sweet 16. Because none of what is happening at Indiana is really all that unique. It’s college kids using fake IDs to go to drink underage, college kids smoking weed during the summer, college kids making the stupid, inexcusable decision to get behind the wheel after drinking.

Crean’s job deserves to be in question, but it’s not because his players keep getting in trouble.

It’s because he hasn’t won enough games to protect himself against the irresponsible 19-year olds on his roster acting like irresponsible 19-year olds.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.