Observations: Tom Crean should be a candidate for Coach of the Year

The Hoosiers were headed towards purgatory when they lost by 20 points at Duke on Dec. 2.

Now they’re headed towards their second outright Big Ten regular season title in four years if they beat Iowa at Iowa on Tuesday.

Knee-jerk reactions have become part of our society, but the way people reacted to Indiana’s shortcomings in November and December are just another example of why the product a team displays early in the year is no way a reflection of what that product is going to be when it’s finished in late February and March.

Since that 20-point loss in Durham, Indiana has gone 18-3 overall, including a 13-3 mark in Big Ten play without James Blackmon (15.8 points), who was lost for the year in late December with a knee injury.

The loss of a former McDonald’s All-American at shooting guard forced Indiana coach Tom Crean to recalibrate his rotation and that allowed the Hoosiers to become a better defensive team and a more cohesive team. All of a sudden role players like Collin Hartman, OG Anunoby, and Juwan Morgan were able to fill in the cement in the cracks around stars like Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, and Thomas Bryant.

And that team who couldn’t play defense in November and December is now giving up an average of just 62.2 points in 16 Big Ten conference games.

Crean led Indiana to a Big Ten regular season title in 2013, but that triumph was more about players like Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller earning a piece of hardware before they bolted for the NBA.

Those two players were lottery picks a few months after they played their final collegiate game. This team doesn’t have anyone of that caliber.

But it has Crean: the coach who was constantly chastised by his fan base when things went wrong early, but can’t seem to get the benefit of the doubt even when his team is on the cusp of its second outright Big Ten regular season title in four years.

That type of an accomplishment without a player like Blackmon warrants consideration to be mentioned with the best of the best and makes Crean a legitimate candidate for National Coach of the Year.

One more victory on Tuesday against Iowa should put Crean in that position.

Seton Hall is the third best team in the Big East

The Pirates dominated Xavier from tip to finish in a nine-point win on Sunday, which should solidify their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2006.

The Big East has seemed like a top-heavy league all season thanks to the combined brilliance of the Musketeers and Villanova, but Seton Hall’s recent surge has separated the Pirates from teams like Providence and Butler.

Kevin Willard’s squad has now won eight of its last nine games and is 21-7 overall and 11-5 conference play.

This is the type of team that could be a real sleeper when the brackets come out on Selection Sunday.

Utah’s momentum can’t be understated

The Utes may only now be getting the national attention they deserve because they beat Arizona for the first time under Larry Krystkowiak on Saturday, but this team has been playing consistent basketball for quite some time.

Utah has quietly won 11 of its last 13 games after losing at home against Oregon on Jan. 17 and the only two losses during that span was a road defeat against the Ducks in Eugene and a two-point loss at Oregon State.

The Utes’ margin of victory during those 11 games is an impressive 15.1 points, and even though this team isn’t as talented as it was a year ago when it had Delon Wright, it likely will wind up as a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament this year versus last when it was a five.

Utah is currently 23-7 overall and will wrap up the regular season on Saturday at home against Colorado.

Tom Crean has done an excellent job with Indiana this season. (USATSI)

This and That

  • Lost in the shuffle of Kansas’ Big 12 championship clinching win over Texas Tech on Saturday was another below average offensive performance from Wayne Selden. The 6-foot-5 junior was just 1 of 8 from the field and 0 of 4 from 3-point range. He also struggled at the free-throw line, going just 1 of 4 against the Red Raiders and continues to struggle to put the ball in the basket. Selden is averaging less than 9.0 points since scoring 33 against in Kentucky on Jan. 30.
  • The most impressive part of Miami’s win over Louisville on Saturday in Coral Gables? Angel Rodriguez had 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and just one turnover in 35 total minutes of action. If Rodriguez plays half as good as that during the NCAA Tournament, then the Canes could wind up in the Final Four.
  • A major reason for Vanderbilt’s recent surge has been the emergence of sophomore Jeff Roberson. The 6-6 forward is averaging 15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds over his last three games, resulting in three consecutive victories for the Dores. Kevin Stallings’ club is 18-11 overall and 10-6 in SEC play.
  • A word to the wise: do not sell stock on teams you like for the NCAA Tournament because they lose hard fought games on the road in conference play.
  • In the last two weeks, Mississippi State has beaten Vanderbilt and South Carolina at home while also earning a road win at Alabama and falling by just two at Texas A&M. The Bulldogs really improved in February under Ben Howland.
  • Things you didn’t think you’d write in October: Georgetown and UCLA have a combined record of 29-29.
  • Average defensive teams do not want to see Butler in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs have scored 80 or more points 12 separate times this season. Chris Holtmann’s squad is currently 19-9 overall and 8-8 in Big East play. Butler has Seton Hall and Marquette in back-to-back home games to close out the regular season.
  • Rhode Island’s Andre Berry scored a total of 19 points this season until Saturday’s game at Dayton. Against the Flyers he scored 15 points in 13 minutes in one of the more improbable wins we’ve seen this season. This is college basketball folks.
  • North Florida is currently averaging 12.5 made 3-pointers per game and its top-five scorers are all juniors and seniors. The Ospreys are 21-10 overall and the team to beat in the Atlantic Sun.
  • Rutgers has not won a conference game since Jan. 11, 2015. No other words are needed.

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