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Is Tom Crean on the clock?

1/26/2010

Indiana fans are not patient people. They want success. They were willing to take on Kelvin Sampson's finger-happy phone habits if it meant 20 wins a season. They were willing to deal with Mike Davis' seeming ineptitude if it meant he could land Bracey Wright and D.J. White. They were willing to deal with -- nay, embrace -- Bob Knight's legendary antics because, duh, he was Bob Knight. He was an awesome coach, even when he was horrifying.

What about Tom Crean? Crean has been charged with rebuilding the rubble after Sampson's departure, when not only did the program face some self-imposed sanctions but every viable player from the Sampson era was poached away by former assistants (Eli Holman, et. al.) or decided to transfer to avoid a down year (Jordan Crawford). When IU and Crean realized just how little was left from the Sampson era -- a former walk-on named Kyle Taber was the only notable returner; he averaged 1.3 minutes per game -- Indiana gave Crean a contract extension outright. It was like a financial apology. Oh, yeah, right. Sorry. We thought it would be better, too. Have some more money and a vote of confidence. We cool now? Cool.

In the second year under Crean's leadership, Indiana has at times looked like a real, grown-up, competitive Big Ten team. It's also, despite far superior talent to last year's hodgepodge squad, looked every bit as bad. The Hoosiers beat Pitt in Madison Square Garden and lost to Loyola (Md.) at home. They beat Minnesota in overtime and lost to Iowa at Assembly Hall.

Are Indiana fans starting to get a little fed up?

FanHouse's Matt Snyder thinks so, and thinks that by this time next year IU fans will have completely run out the clock on the Tom Crean honeymoon. No excuses; Crean will be expected to field a successful team. But how fair is that?

Next year Crean will return everyone but shaky guard Devan Dumes. He'll also get star freshman Maurice Creek back from a season-ending injury, and he'll have another of his own recruiting classes -- which isn't ranked in the top 25 and which lacks a future star in the mold of Creek or Christian Watford -- on campus. But he'll still be dealing with some of the same players he has now, and frankly, those players aren't Big Ten stars. Tom Pritchard, for example, is a capable starter but nothing more; won't he still be in Indiana's lineup next season? Won't this still be a work in progress?

Snyder's expectations are simple: IU should be competing for a spot in the NCAA tournament as soon as next season. Maybe that's reasonable. Maybe not. But if Crean falls short, it seems far, far, far too early to begin doubting him as the right person to rebuild Indiana. The man inherited a dire situation and, thanks to the wonders of Diet Coke, has banged his over-caffeinated head against a wall with scrappy but untalented players for almost two years. That's not what he signed up for. Shouldn't Indiana afford Crean the same patience Crean has afforded Indiana?