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Tom Crean wins second Big Ten title, but is that the answer to his problems at Indiana?

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Tom Crean just put the finishing touches on his second outright Big Ten regular season title in the past four seasons, going into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and knocking off No. 16 Iowa, 81-78.

It may not seem like Indiana winning two outright Big Ten titles in the span of four seasons is a big deal, but it is, particularly when you consider what Crean has been through this season.

There was no guarantee that Crean was actually going to get off of the plane with his job intact after Indiana was utterly humiliated in a loss at Duke earlier this season. I wrote a 2,000 word column on it at the time. It was as bad of a defensive performance as you’re ever going to see. The Hoosiers, at the time, had already lost to Wake Forest — who is currently avoiding the cellar of the ACC thanks to winless Boston College — and UNLV — who was so bad this season that their head coach was forced to resign three games into conference play.

The fan base had turned on him prior to the season, just waiting for him to give them a reason.

Then the mother of one of his best players cussed him out in a Facebook post.

Then he lost James Blackmon Jr., Indiana’s best shooter and second-leading scorer, to a season-ending knee injury.

The ending — a spiraling season culminating in a coaching change — was inevitable … until it wasn’t. Crean found a way to get a bunch of kids that never seemed all that interested in playing defense to become one of the better defensive teams in the Big Ten. He turned Thomas Bryant from a liability into the active, aggressive paint presence that he was hyped as being when he entered the program as a freshman. He discovered his secret weapon, OG Anunoby. And he hitched his wagon to Yogi Ferrell, who managed to put together an all-american caliber season while carrying the Hoosiers as far as his 5-foot-11 frame will take them.

Before I go any further on Crean, it’s worth celebrating the season that Ferrell has had. He entered the program with an unfathomable amount of expectation, the centerpiece of a highly-regarded recruiting class of in-state kids that was supposed to join forces with Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and company and return the Hoosiers to the glory of yesteryear.

But Zeller and Oladipo went pro after Yogi’s freshman season. Then each and every other member of that recruiting class transferred out of the program, either because they weren’t good enough or because they spent too much time making headlines for things like underage drinking or getting busted for possession. Yogi himself wasn’t immune, as he got popped for using a fake ID.

His legacy was on the line this season.

And regardless of what happens the rest of the month, he’ll leave Bloomington as a legend, never to pay for another meal in the Hoosier State again.

So good for him.

Moments like this really only happen in college sports, and for it to happen this way for a basketball player at a basketball school in a basketball state is one of the great stories this season.

And good for Tom Crean.

Because he just relieved quite a bit of the pressure that was on him. Remember, things were so bad in Indiana that fans would chant ‘Tom Crean Sucks’ at Crean’s son’s high school basketball games.

But the question now becomes whether or not this is going to be enough to win people over. On the one hand, the Crean era can no longer be called a disappointment. He’s won two outright Big Ten regular season titles since Obama was given a second term in office. In the 20 seasons before that, Indiana had won just a single Big Ten title, back in 2002, and that includes the first three years of Crean’s tenure, which he spent trying to rebuild on the scorched earth that was left by Kelvin Sampson.

On the other hand, Indiana fans are never fully going to be behind Crean again. All it is going to take is one slip-up for them to come for his throat. What if he loses in the opening round of the NCAA tournament? What if Troy Williams and Thomas Bryant head to the NBA, leaving Crean in full blown rebuilding mode once again? Will the Hoosier faithful be happy with yet another season of sitting around and waiting for a crop of incoming freshmen to become accustomed to the college game?

Ron Davis is the perfect example of this.

Who is Ron Davis?

He’s one of the random twitter users that spends their days defending their favorite team against the biased hatred of sportswriters everywhere. He believed I had somehow disrespected Tom Crean, and after yelling at me for a couple of tweets, he told me that Crean “has proved by turning [the season] around he deserve the respect of Hoosiers everywhere….For how long I don’t know.”

I added the bold.

Because that’s my point here.

How long is Crean going to be in the good graces of the Hoosier State, and will that be enough for him — or the powers that be at Indiana — to decide whether or not a change needs to be made?

Will Crean decide that it’s better to leave a year too early instead of a year too late, that risking the quality of his life and his family’s life is not worth the money? Will Indiana do what UCLA did when they got rid of Ben Howland after he won a conference title?

I don’t have that answer. I’m not sure Crean or the Indiana Athletic Department currently does, either.

What I do know is that the relationship between that coach, that school and those fans is not going to be fixed simply by winning the Big Ten regular season title …

… again.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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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.