Indiana's Tom Crean Faces Old Friend

Coach Ron Meyer: Indiana's Tom Crean Faces Old Friend

You can bet that ESPN will devote a lot of time during Tuesday Night's Michigan State-Indiana telecast to the back story of Tom Izzo and Tom Crean. They have a long history together. And, either could be making history in the near future.

You may not be aware that:

  • Crean's first job as an assistant coach was as a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Jud Heathcote. He was recommended for the job by his friend, and MSU assistant at the time Tom Izzo

  • Crean's biggest job as an assistant as he climbed the ladder by way of Western Kentucky and Pittsburgh was back at Michigan State. Izzo hired him in 1995, and let Crean live in his house (Izzo was an usher at Crean's wedding!)

Crean would leave Michigan State before the 1999-2000 season to be the head coach at Marquette. You may remember Crean and a guy named Dwyane Wade leading Marquette to the Final Four in March of 2003. When Indiana was in desperate need of salvation following the controversial end of the Bob Knight era and the Kelvin Sampson debacle, Crean was hired by the Hoosiers prior to the 2008-09 season.

It may have taken a bit longer than expected, but Crean now has Indiana up amongst the elite college basketball programs once again.

2008-09: 6-25
2009-10: 10-21
2010-11: 12-20
This Year: 22-7 so far

He was literally starting from scratch when he first took over. And, locals in Bloomington began to get impatient last season. Now, everyone's on the same page. Indiana is ranked in the top 15 nationally by most computer estimates. They're going to get a good seed, and they are certainly a team that can go deep in the Dance.

Michigan State? They're only playing for the regular season Big Ten championship tonight (thanks to Ohio State's home loss on Sunday to Wisconsin). If the Spartans win tonight, they might even lock in a #1 seed in the Big Dance along with Syracuse and Kentucky (there will be quite a fight for the last remaining #1's among Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and maybe Missouri).

Izzo and Crean did meet in the Big Dance back when Crean was at Marquette. This is clearly their most important meeting since then because Indiana finally has a top notch team again.

My take on both men heading into March:

  • Izzo has done a great job with Michigan State this year. You probably remember all the talk back in November about how young this team was, and how this was more of a rebuilding year than one where Izzo could expect to win a championship. Everyone was talking about Ohio State back then as a runaway power in the conference. If somebody was going to catch them, it would be Wisconsin.

Well, Michigan State caught and surpassed both of those teams in dominant fashion based on what's happened in recent meetings. I don't think there's anyone playing better basketball right now than MSU when you adjust for recent schedules and the sites of the games. You don't want to peak too early. I'm not ready to pick the Spartans to go the distance yet. But, it's clear that this is now a championship caliber team that's matured quickly.

  • Cream deserves a lot of credit for turning the program around, and for the other high points we've seen this season. My concern is that the Hoosiers have too many road losses. They're 9-7 in conference play heading into tonight, and six of those seven losses came on the road. You don't get to play home games in the Big Ten tournament or in the Big Dance! I would have liked to have seen better road results against the likes of Michigan State (15-point loss), Ohio State (17-point loss), Nebraska (one-point loss to a bad team), Wisconsin (7-point loss), Michigan (12-point loss), and Iowa (12-point loss). That's not a lot of nailbiters. That many double digit road losses casts doubt on Indiana's ability to string together March victories.

So, in terms of making history a month from now, I think Michigan State is the better choice by far. Indiana is a strong darkhorse...but they're only a darkhorse.

Tonight, Indiana is at home, where they've already beaten Kentucky and Ohio State. THIS GAME IN BLOOMINGTON IS GOING TO HAVE A FINAL FOUR FEEL TO IT!

I may or may not have a big play in this particular matchup. I handicap every game on the card from a coach's perspective. We have plenty to look at in the colleges (including Florida-Vandy, Xavier-Saint Louis, and the first round of the Horizon League tournament). If you purchase today's picks, you'll get my strongest plays on the board whether they're in the colleges or the pro's.

Make a few clicks Tuesday afternoon and have your credit card handy. You can sign up for the rest of basketball online, or by calling my office at 1-877-540-8787.

Michigan State has been a power in college basketball for decades because they had the right coaches in their corner. Indiana is now back on the radar thanks to their coach. Isn't it time YOU started experiencing championship level performance with your Las Vegas bets? Get on board with COACH RON MEYER!

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