Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tom Crean's Snub and the COY Race

Ben Fishman

    Tom Crean took the Indiana job five years ago this April. In his first season the Hoosiers struggled to a 6-25 season, winning only one Big Ten game. Since then, the turnaround has been steady and time consuming all at once.
    Indiana won 10 games, then 12 games in Crean’s second and third years before the final breakthrough year last season, a 27-win year, with a berth in the Sweet Sixteen. This year Crean’s Hoosier’s officially christened the turnaround as in the past, winning their first Big Ten regular season outright championship since 1993.
    Yet, on Tuesday, the Big Ten released its Coach of the Year. The recipient? Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan.

    Now I know what you’re saying. This might come off as sour grapes to you, but it’s not. The only award that matters is the one given out on the first Monday of April. But Tom Crean deserves the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
    It’s not a slight in any ways against Bo Ryan. Ryan’s Badgers became the first Big Ten team to lay a defeat on Indiana in January, in Bloomington, for their 11th straight win over Indiana and were in the Big Ten regular season title race right until the end. Wisconsin lost several key players from last season’s squad that finished 4th in the Big Ten, and Ryan’s squad entered the year as an afterthought.
    But Bo Ryan simply didn’t do enough to earn the Coach of the Year award in what is the best conference in basketball this season.

    When the season started, the Indiana Hoosiers were selected to finish first in the league, with Cody Zeller taking home the pre season Player of the Year honor. Since then, not only did Zeller live up to expectations, so did teammate Victor Oladipo, but Indiana did as well. The Hoosiers won the Big Ten outright and all but guaranteed themselves of a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. So why shouldn’t Tom Crean be rewarded for the job he’s done?
    Was it because of his post game outburst at former Indiana assistant Jeff Meyer following the 72-71 victory at Michigan? Was it because people simply don’t like Tom Crean? Who knows. But Indiana went 14-4 in the Big Ten, beat Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan on the road and won the outright title. 
    Yes, Crean had the best players, evident by Yogi Ferrell making the All-Freshman team, Will Sheehey winning 6th Man of the Year, and Zeller and Oladipo being named to the All-First team. So why did Bo Ryan win Coach of the Year?
    I will never understand.

    Speaking of Coach of the Year, how about the candidates nation wide?

    Tom Crean should be given consideration should Indiana win the Big Ten tournament as well this weekend in Chicago. Crean has brought Indiana back from the depths of basketball hell, and done a good job ticking people off while doing so. But Crean also has Indiana on pace for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully placement in the Indianapolis regional, something that would give Indiana close to 30,000 screaming fans in Lucas Oil. Crean has done a phenomenal job in Indiana and a Coach of the Year award could easily go his way in the coming weeks. 

    Jim Crews should also get consideration for the job he’s done at St. Louis. Mind you, the Billikens have never been a basketball powerhouse, but Crews has done a fine job getting them into the Top 25 and right in the thick of the Atlantic-10 tournament this weekend. That’s the hard part, the extra hard part is considering the circumstances under which Crews has excelled. Before the season started, legendary coach Rick Majerus stepped aside and announced he wouldn’t be returning to coach this season. In December, Majerus passed away. What Jim Crews has done in St. Louis, with the memory of Rick Majerus lingering over the program, has been nothing short of amazing. Crews and his squad are doing a great job of paying homage to one of the all-time greats in basketball.

    John Thompson III needs to be on every ballot cast for Coach of the Year. In the last year of Big East affiliation, the Hoyas captured the outright Big East crown, in a year where it was supposed to be Louisville’s to lose. Thompson is giving the Hoya’s a nice send off before they join the Catholic Seven in the New Big East next season. Since everyone knew Otto Porter’s squad was departing, everybody was ready to get one last lick in on Georgetown, only to see them survive and win. Otto Porter is a name you should get used to, he may very well be on some All-American teams and his 33 point outburst in a road win over Syracuse is right up there with some of the finer performances this season.

    Jim Larranaga has done an excellent job of turning Miami around, especially considering the turmoil the program was in when former coach Frank Haith bolted for Missouri amidst NCAA violations regarding the Shapiro scandal that rocked Coral Gables last summer. Larranaga is one of the all-around best coaches in college basketball, most known for his Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2006 with George Mason. My father told me that when he was in Coral Gables last year for an event for my sister, a Hurricane student, that he was in a bar and sat down next to a man that he had never seen before. The man introduced himself and believe it or not, it was Jim Larranaga, just settling into Coral Gables. He made waves in that tiny bar, and then made waves with an amazing season in Miami, capturing the outright ACC Championship.

    Ben Howland in my opinion should have been showed the door in Westwood last season when the SI report came out, detailing drug use and abuse among other things in the UCLA program, allegations that a man named John Wooden would have never allowed. Yet, Howland let the story come out, fought it, and brought in a top 5 recruiting class to LA, with high hopes of a deep run in March. Led by Shabazz Muhammad, the Bruins started the season rough, losing to Georgetown early on in Brooklyn. Since then, Howland has gotten his team of star recruits to buy into the idea of the team, and that culminated with a Pac-12 regular season championship. UCLA is finally getting it together, and is going to be a scary team to deal with come March, and Howland should be credited with how he handled the situation.

    Finally, I believe that Mark Few has officially cemented his name among some of the better coaches in the country today. The Bulldogs have always been that team out West, that wins some early season games, disappears in conference play and winds up showing up and squeaking out a couple wins in March. This year Few’s team will enter the NCAA Tournament with two losses, zero since the calendar turned to 2013. Gonzaga rose to #1 in the polls late in the season and Few has perhaps his best team since Adam Morrison’s squad made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. Gonzaga will undoubtedly earn one of the #1 seeds, likely in the West regional, meaning the Bulldogs get to travel down to Los Angeles to play for a chance at the Final Four in Atlanta. In that 2006 season, the Bulldogs got UCLA in Oakland and ended up losing on a last second comeback by the Bruins. Don’t be surprised if you see these two teams wage battle again this March.

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