"We’re Indiana"

"We’re Indiana. We don’t play in the CBI." - Fred Glass 3/16/2014

Ever since Tom Crean was hired at Indiana the marketing of the program has gone into overdrive.  It had to, for some good reasons, and did so for many other financial ones.  Without a true profit center of a football team, like most other Big Ten schools, IU basketball carries a lot of weight around the athletic department budgets, and any dip in basketball revenue is felt all around Bloomington let alone the non revenue producing teams.

This reality drives the need to always keep IU basketball fans buying tickets or attending alumni events, but with the dumpster fires still blazing from the Kelvin Sampson exit, and all the players fleeing for other schools, NBA, or locations unknown, what was the Athletic Department to do?

Take 90 seconds out of your day and get into the way back machine, clear your mind and go back to 2008.

Seriously, watch this we’ll wait right here…

This is a place and time that is dominated by fear of the NCAA, embarrassment over the broken ideal of running an infractions free program, and lying about how bad the next season(s) could be.  There’s a few things that Crean wasn’t aware of yet, and alumni/fans are still blissfully clueless of what was really going on in the locker room at the end of that season.  Players on that team literally vanished from the face of the planet never to be heard of again, and new guys were talked into some free playing time at Indiana.

What did you hear in that clip?  Do you remember being excited or unsure?  Either way, the narrative was beginning and a few vehicles were already there to help that along.  His last name working as a play on words for “Crean & Crimson”, a basketball coach that looks straight into the camera and talks about state pride, how could he not take the job when “it’s Indiana”, and the term “Hoosier Nation” makes it’s first of many prominent appearances in Crean’s speeches.  From that moment forward everything surrounding Indiana University basketball was wrapped in some sort of this packaging.

In those early years, when the basketball was truly terrible, you actually watched the non conference games only because you thought it might be the last time to see them win that season.  At this point people didn’t need to hear much more than “give it time”, “It’s all about recruiting”, and then some pride filled statements about “representing such a great basketball state”.  Nobody was complaining, it was horrific, but every IU fan was told to grin and bear it…”it’s Indiana” and everyone ate that up.

Right around the time that the play on the court needed to match the marketing slogans, we were all gifted a song so terrible/awesome that we hesitate to even link it here.  It didn’t take long for "This Is Indiana" to become a favorite of the student body, the word “Banners” got attached to every T-Shirt they could make, and everyone ate that up all over again and asked for seconds.

Then the Watford Shot happened and all those things everyone had been told, could actually come true, there was real hope of being good great again.  This is where marketing and momentum crossed paths, fans could not get enough of anything related to IU basketball.  The amount of candy striped pants in the stands, in the bars, and on the road that year showed a fan base just begging for a reason to be excited.  Overhear another IU fan taunting someone else between 2010-14?  It probably involves something about a “banner”…

Last season, Indiana spent basically the entire year as the presumed “best team in the nation”, by then the expectations and talent were outpacing the marketing because it was all feeding off of itself.  The Hoosiers won the Big Ten Title on the last day of the season, got Wisconsin’ed in the B10 tourney, then pummeled in the NCAA and THUD.  Sure there was some warning that this year would be different, you can’t have that talent and experience every year, but… “it’s Indiana”

What occurred on the court this season is inexcusable, it is not irrational to be disgusted with the job that Crean and his staff did with this amount of talent.  If you have been telling fans for the last 5+ years that you’re “building the program the right way and that takes time” you cannot then expect the same people to accept this steep and quick of a decline.  Especially when there is legitimate and substantial amounts of talent that just clearly never played well together, that fact is clear to the majority of “Hoosier Nation”.

You just can’t have it both ways, when all you had was marketing and patience for the first 3 seasons you need to follow up any hint of success with more success.  This is the only way that IU fans will continue to ignore your foolish antics, if you can’t perform on the court there is no way people will accept the embarrassments off it.  When you have a Twitter meltdown like we have seen over the last 24 hours it does not make it better, especially with the relief that Jim Irsay offered you this morning.

So when Fred Glass released his statement last night after “Hoosier Nation” had been gut punched by the good folks at the NIT all we could think was:

How dare you continue to push this narrative.  Indiana basketball was not one of the top 100 teams this season in college basketball, which caused them to not be invited to play in either of the post season tournaments.  When confronted with this issue the Athletic Department made the decision that there was nothing good that could be gained by playing in the lowly CBI event.  Indiana fans are restless, the marketing can’t keep up with the blowback, and the excuses are running out.  To have played in the CBI would’ve left Glass and Crean with 2 terrible outcomes.

  1. Lose in the CBI and have to explain that to “Hoosier Nation”
  2. Win the CBI and have to explain that on a “Banner”

Neither of those are attractive to any sane human being, although Crean’s cryptic comments via twitter last night leave us guessing on that one.  These are the facts, IU didn’t turn down the CBI *opportunity* because of pride, IU didn’t turn it down because of ego, in fact IU didn’t turn it down because of money…  Indiana University turned down the CBI tournament invitation because there was no good way to sell that to the fan base without hurting the program.  Revenue protection, revenue protection, and more revenue protection that’s all this is.

In a sense Fred and Tom are correct, we’re Indiana…  If that means we’re the same fans that bought into the marketing , we’re the same fans that got too excited, and we’re the same fans that expected too much this year.  But, to say that in a manner that insinuates that everything is ok, the status quo is working, and we’re just making a decision to not play in an event that is below IU basketball is just downright misleading.  That was the intention all along though, because we’re Indiana and we’ll cheer for anything resembling basketball.

Why Would Noah Vonleh Stay?

Plenty of fact based analysis/realism coming from this site in the near future, as well as good basketball on TV basically 24/7 for the next 10 days+, but for some reason Indiana Basketball can’t stay out of the news.  It all started on Thursday with a not so shocking outcome in the opening round of the Big Ten Championship which also coincided with our first release of "Attack Of The Crean Defenders", and that was about all that was supposed to happen on the IU basketball front for the weekend.  Or so we thought…

Midday Friday brought a visit from the bizarro world that is New York City media, and all this Mike Woodson nonsense.  If anyone out there actually believes any of this, you’re chasing a really bad dream.  Yes it is a good idea to have a conversation about firing Tom Crean, no it is not a good idea to just pick a new coach based on being an Alum or what a NYC tabloid suggests.  Besides, the only reason it even got a sniff of national news is that it involved the coach of the Knicks who are an absolute shit show right now anyway.  It’s “back page, selling newspapers babble” nothing more, and it shouldn’t be shocking that ESPN ran with it just to have all their talking heads make their normal “Tom Crean is a great coach anyway” passing comments.  That was supposed to be all that happened on the IU basketball front for the weekend.  Or so we thought…

Now we get to Saturday evening and Yahoo Sport’s Adrian Wojnarowski posts a new story about Noah Vonleh already having 1 foot out the door in early March for the NBA.

OF COURSE HE IS LEAVING THIS IS NOT A NEW IDEA.

Noah, was never really supposed to come to Indiana, Crean’s recruiting plans did not come through for one reason or another following the hype of "The Movement". There sat Vonleh who was  skipping up a grade in High School, eligible to get 1 step closer to early entry to the NBA, and willing to consider Indiana for a 1 year engagement.  He’s good kid, making a great decision for himself, we all know he’s really good at basketball, and IU fans should not be at all surprised by this.  However, it does keep the terrible season this team had in the spotlight, and that is a positive thing.

As a thought experiment, let’s pretend that it’s not that simple for Noah and skim some numbers from the season that may tell us if there is any reason for him to stay.  

Quick question; if you had to name the best player on this year’s IU team, who would you name?  Noah?  Yogi?  Sheehey?  Johnny Marlin?  Jeff Howard?

Seriously though… A majority of Indiana fans would say Vonleh, let’s see if the numbers support that.  Or, more importantly, do they paint a picture that says Noah Vonleh would be better off staying in IU’s offensive system under Tom Crean for another season to improve either skills or draft position.  There’s a rather extensive “Season Recap Stat Post” coming soon from us so let’s try and keep this light for now, and just touch on some basic stats.

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Probably won’t surprise too many people that have watched a majority of the games this season when you see that above.  Yes, it is true that a Power Forward or Center needs someone to get him the ball, but in this case he needs a team that has even the slightest interest in running an offense that involves getting it to him in the post.  Total points are one thing, but the lack of opportunities gets even more disgusting when put like this.

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It is amazing to think that a kid who is going to be a 6-12 pick in the NBA draft couldn’t get more than 12% of the shot attempts for a mediocre underperforming basketball team.  This is in no way a criticism of Yogi, he’s a terrific Point Guard in charge of running a terrible offensive system.  Hell, most of the times IU was remotely exciting this season occurred when Yogi was just making things up in chaos.  Do not confuse the issues here, the problems are the system and if the offensive design can’t find a way to get the best player the ball in a scoring position for more than 12% of their shot attempts that’s ridiculous.

Now if you are anything like us you will start asking questions, such as “Wait, I bet he was in foul trouble a bunch and that cost him some quality scoring chances…”

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The first thing you will notice is the absolute crater in the graph above for the UCONN game when he got some quick cheap whistles and was basically on the bench the entire game.  After that Noah had some minor troubles in late Dec early Jan staying on the court due to foul trouble, but as the Big Ten Season hit it’s stride so did he defensively.  Insane part is that his shot attempts hovered around 5-8 a game for the middle of the B10 schedule when he was in no foul trouble whatsoever.  The peak at the end was the rescheduled Iowa game where they came to Bloomington reeling and with clearly no intention of playing defense.  

You’re telling us that you can’t find a way to get him the ball?  Now granted, there are some monster FT games in there that hide some of this in his total points, but this is a major problem.  If you are going to recruit a kid that is clearly going to be on campus for 1 season and then be a lottery pick, you absolutely have to make sure you maximize his time on the team and get him the ball where he needs it.  Crazy thing is that you know the coaching staff has data like this at their fingertips.

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Is this a hard thing to see?  The best player on your roster for the entire season barely got the ball in a preferred position and he still shot a FG% above average for the rest of the team.  All those “end of the shot clock” attempts by Yogi add up quickly when nobody is moving around, there are no plays being run, and you’re just hoping that the 3 man weave from 30 ft produces a bucket.

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How many programs in college basketball would love to have Yogi Ferrel and Noah Vonleh on the same team?  Shouldn’t this above graph be reversed?  A great PG is told to run an offense that involves getting the ball to someone like Vonleh in high percentage situations, Yogi would be better, and the team would score more points simply because more of Vonleh’s shots are closer to the hoop.  We don’t pretend to be experts in basketball strategy, but this is clear as day when you look at the numbers and struggles this team experienced.

So, I will ask you again the 2 questions related to this topic.

  • Who is the best player on the current IU roster?
  • Why would Noah Vonleh stay?

If your answer to the 1st question is Noah, then the answer to the 2nd question has to be that there is no reason for him to play another year at IU.  Would you stay at an entry level job that isn’t giving you the training opportunity that you were expecting, knowing that an armored truck full of cash (2-3 million per year guaranteed) was coming for you now or later? 

Another year of college will not make him a better rebounder, it will not make him more money, and even if he stayed he barely gets a chance to improve offensively on a team that struggles to inbound the ball, let alone score.  Have to look ahead here too, almost all the recruits coming in next year are scorers, so shots are going to become even more sparse for him if you can believe that.

As stated above, he’s a good kid making a great decision for himself.  From our perspective he should get as far away from Tom Crean’s offensive system before it does him damage rather than just stalling out.  There’s also a longer conversation to be had about the PF/C positions at IU in the last 5+ years and lack of improvement made by people not named Cody Zeller, but that’s for another day.

Hoosier fans should do nothing else than thank Noah for his time at IU, he was fun to watch when he actually got the ball, an amazing athlete that has all the potential in the world, and worry about much more important things such as how to be rid of Tom Crean intelligently.