Eastern Washington loss bad for Indiana coach Tom Crean

Is this rock bottom?

Can it get any worse for Tom Crean, Indiana and a faithful fan base that's tempted to take the band off its ring finger?

A loss to Eastern Washington? In Bloomington?


On Monday night, the Hoosiers suffered an 88-86 loss to a Big Sky team that Blue Ribbon picked to finish third ... in the Big Sky Conference. It was Eastern Washington's first win against a Big Ten team in 14 tries. The loss snapped Indiana's 43-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents.

This is the same Indiana team that defeated a ranked SMU squad last week.

The Hoosiers needed that victory. They'd been a weary bunch after an unfortunate accident sent Devin Davis to the hospital, one of many off-court incidents that have affected the program over the past year. But the win against Larry Brown's Mustangs -- captained by Hoosiers freshman James Blackmon Jr. -- suggested Indiana and Crean could rise again. Maybe the Hoosiers could move beyond the drama and focus on a critical season.

But now they're back on a deserted island, seeking their footing on the sands of uncertainty.

It's only November. So this tale could end with the Hoosiers restoring their image and legacy with a surprising finish in the Big Ten and a spot in the Big Dance. But a loss to the Eagles won't spawn much optimism.

A chasm, however, often separates coaches from the perception that their days are numbered. It would reportedly take $12 million to fire Crean today and more than $7 million to dismiss the coach in 2015. That's a lot of cash, especially for the flagship university in a higher education system that's endured more than $150 million in budget cuts since 2009.

And Fred Glass, the school's athletic director, called Crean "a part of the solution" -- not the problem -- in recent remarks about the program's turmoil. Plus, it has been only two years since Crean led Indiana from NCAA ruin to an upset over Kentucky and a No. 1 ranking the following season. Those Cody Zeller years were fruitful.

The Twitterverse might call for Crean's head, but that doesn't mean those in charge are led by a similar sentiment.

It's too early for assumptions about Crean's future. But a home loss to Eastern Washington doesn't help him.

At a minimum, it provides more firepower for those who've echoed the collective frustration that's grown since Zeller and Victor Oladipo left early for the NBA. Crean can ignore that noise. But it will only get louder if this inconsistency continues. That chatter represents a slice of his program's supporters and showcases their angst.

The basement the Hoosiers slept in from 2008-12 was a period of exile from the game's country club, which Indiana had been a member of for so many years. The NCAA had punished the school with sanctions and scholarship losses. So Crean entered this gig in 2008 facing an immense rebuilding job.

Now, he has an elite point guard (Yogi Ferrell), a high-scoring freshman wing (Blackmon) and some solid reserves who shouldn't allow Indiana to lose to mediocre mid-majors. Yes, he has a lot of young players, but that won't pass as an excuse because the entire Big Ten is rebuilding and some of the best teams in America are anchored by underclassmen.

That's why Eastern Washington matters.

Maybe this will ultimately be viewed as a meaningless blemish come Selection Sunday. But perhaps it's a sign that Crean is struggling to connect with this group. Maybe it's proof that, dating back to last season, the coach hasn't found the proper formula to help his players realize they can't show up for SMU and then fade late against Eastern Washington.

Time will tell.

But these are the losses that doom bubble teams. These are the losses that turn administrators and fans against coaching staffs. These are the losses that breed speculation.

And the latter is the last thing Indiana -- and Crean -- needs right now.