The Reptile At Courtside

Normally I don’t pay much attention to coaches.  I may hate opposing players, or think they are overrated, or wish we had them on our team, but the opposing coach is more of a non-entity.

That’s why I find the revulsion I feel for Tom Crean, the head basketball coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, so interesting.  I’ve come to really despise him, because he seems to have every despicable quality in the book.  He’s a poor sport who won’t give the opposing coach an honest handshake if the Hoosiers lose.  During games he stalks back and forth like a reptile in a pet shop cage and ventures far out onto the court in violation of the rules.  He’s a braggart in victory and a whiner in defeat.  When he loses, he’ll sulk for extended periods before facing the media and answering their questions.  And recently he weirdly berated the assistant coach of an opposing team.  He just seems like a thoroughly unpleasant guy who has some deep-seated issues.

He’s done a fine job at Indiana, I’ll give him credit for that.  He took a fabled basketball school that was on its knees after years of futility and some bad head coaching hires, he recruited some excellent players and coached them well, and he turned things around to the point that the Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season championship this year.  Some of his former players say he has been a tremendous friend and help to them.  But, what Tom Crean possesses in recruiting and basketball savvy he seems to utterly lack in charm and sportsmanship.  If I were an Indiana fan, I’d be celebrating his success but cringing with embarrassment at some of his antics.

I’ve always thought that coaching was an honorable and important profession, because coaches can have an incredible impact on the young people they mentor and teach.  For that reason, I think coaches should be role models and always strive to exhibit the qualities — like sportsmanship, and generosity in victory and graciousness in defeat, and accepting responsibility — that are so important to success in life.  Crean doesn’t do so.  In my mind, that makes him somebody who can figure out how to win basketball games, but not a very good coach.

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Roll Out The Roundball

Tonight Big Ten basketball teams begin playing their conference schedules.  Wisconsin takes on Nebraska, and Illinois plays Minnesota.  Ohio State kicks off its Big Ten season tomorrow against Northwestern.

It should be a very interesting Big Ten season.  By far the most surprising team so far has been Indiana.  The Hoosiers, who were woeful the past few years, are undefeated and have a last-second win over mighty Kentucky under their belts.  Many people thought Indiana was a year away, but perhaps coach Tom Crean and the young Hoosiers have other ideas. We’ll get a good sense of the Hoosiers’ real strength soon enough — they open at Michigan State and then welcome the Buckeyes to Assembly Hall in what should be a barn burner.

I haven’t seen all of the Big Ten teams play yet, but the conference appears to be strong and deep.  Ohio State likely would be the favorite if Jared Sullinger were 100 percent, but he has been hobbled by injuries and his status throws the conference race up for grabs.  Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Purdue are always tough.  Minnesota has been a surprise — although they really haven’t played much of a schedule — Michigan has lots of talent, and Illinois and Northwestern have gotten off to good starts.  Northwestern, in particular, is a challenge to play because they run a back-cut offensive scheme that other teams don’t see very often.

Of course, that’s one of the great things about college basketball — coaches can play different schemes and use different looks that can catch opponents off-guard and allow for upsets.  This year’s Big Ten conference race should be competitive, and entertaining.  Let’s get it started!