Indiana's disappointing 2016-17 season ended with a whimper last night in a double-digit NIT loss at Georgia Tech, and the program enters familiar territory this offseason: uncertainty about its head coach.
Tom Crean is only one year removed from an outright Big Ten championship, but three of the last four seasons have been duds:
2013-14: Indiana declined a postseason invite after sputtering to a 17-15 record. The "down" season was understandable, though, considering the Hoosiers had lost Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, and Jordan Hulls off of the roster.
2014-15: A promising start, which included a temporary place atop the Big Ten and in the Top 25, was followed by a second-half collapse, leading to the Hoosiers barely sneaking into the NCAA Tournament field. They had a quiet and quick first round exit, falling to Wichita State in the 7/10 game.
2015-16: Indiana kicked it into gear after coming out of the gates slowly, winning the outright Big Ten championship by two games with a 15-3 conference mark. They went on to bounce arch-rival Kentucky to advance to the Sweet 16 last March, only to fall to eventual National runner-up North Carolina.
2016-17: This season started off with the Hoosiers looking like a Final Four team in wins over Kansas and North Carolina, but Indiana dropped nine of their final ten games against Top 50 opponents. They failed to make an extremely watered-down NCAA Tournament field with 15 losses, and were eliminated in the opening round of the NIT by an under-talented Georgia Tech team.
Unfortunately, the "two Big Ten titles in four* years!" (*it's two Big Ten titles in five seasons, technically) card is mostly offset by the "two missed NCAA Tournaments in four years!" card.
So, how do you judge a head coach that has had peaks (2013, 2016) and valleys (2014, 2015, 2017)? Are the two outright Big Ten titles enough when Indiana has been a complete and total non-factor in every other season? Is a 38-34 conference record with two missed NCAA Tournaments in Crean's sixth-to-ninth seasons an indication that the program is heading in the right direction?
I think it's time for both sides to move on. For Crean, life can't be much fun on the permanent hot seat. He's had enough success at Marquette and Indiana to show that he is a solid coach, and could probably be much happier at a place like N.C. State or Missouri. For Indiana, fan apathy is rising, and with no clear, consistent direction for the program, a new leader is needed.
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