No love lost between Matta and Creen

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Last updated: 02/28/2011 1:40 PM
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Men's Basketball
No Love Lost Between Matta and Crean
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The little town of Hoopeston, Ill. is only 85 miles from Bloomington, Indiana, where Thad Matta used to root for legendary Hoosiers coach Bob Knight.

Many thought Matta would jump at the chance to follow in Knight’s footsteps as the head coach the University of Indiana, where Knight led the Hoosiers to a pair of NCAA championships in the 1980s.

Instead, Matta passed on the opportunity to coach one of the most storied programs in college basketball, not once, but twice. After two tumultuous years under Kelvin Sampson, who left the program in all kinds of hot water with the NCAA, Indiana hired Marquette coach Tom Crean to take over back in 2008.

Since taking over the program, Crean has lost all six matchups with Matta, all by double-digits. After Sunday’s 82-61 shellacking in Columbus, Ohio State has beaten Crean by an average of more than 19 points a contest, with the closest margin of victory being 12 points back in January of 2009.

It’s no wonder Crean’s handshakes with Matta are starting to resemble the Lloyd Carr days at Michigan, but Crean himself is coming a lot more like Rich Rodriguez. With his team trailing 38-23 at the half Sunday, Crean stormed onto the court where Matta was talking things over with one of the officials.

“My concern was this, and I've made this point with (Big Ten head of officiating) Rick Boyagers before. I don't do it, and I don't think coaches should get a free conference with the officials at half time,” Crean said after the game.

“That's happened to us and nothing was done about it, and I wasn't going to stand back and not be a part of that. That's the way that it is. Whether it's gamesmanship or whatever it is, the half is over and the officials are supposed to be leaving the floor. That didn't happen, so I stood out there. No harm, no foul. I'll do it again, too.”

It’s a fair argument, yet somehow Crean still manages to come off looking like a baby. He only furthered that by refusing to attend the traditional post-game press conference. Instead, he let reporters know they could meet him in his locker room if they wished to speak with him.

Matta brushed off the incident during his press conference.

“He just wanted to know what I was saying (to the officials at half time),” Matta said.

“As I would probably want to know what he was saying at that time.”

He made it sound like no big deal, much more than Crean’s “no harm, no foul” comment, yet neither coach could hide the mutual distaste that seems apparent to anyone who has seen them interact.

Despite their similar profession, their personalities could not be more different, but the bad blood runs deeper. Maybe it goes back to Crean’s Michigan roots. He doesn’t have Maize and Blue in his blood, but Crean was born in Mount Pleasant, played at Central Michigan, coached at Michigan State and is married to Jim Harbaugh’s sister.

If that’s not enough to make him a Buckeye hater, then maybe he’s just disgruntled with the way things have gone in Bloomington since he took over the program.

Crean was supposed to be the savior of Indiana basketball; the resurrector of the Crimson and Cream. He had taken Marquette to the NCAA Tournament five times in his nine seasons as head coach, including a Final Four appearance in 2003.

But Crean didn’t have Dwyane Wade when he took over at Indiana, and the Hoosiers promptly went 6-25 in his first season at the helm, including a 1-17 record in the Big Ten. No one could blame Crean after what Sampson did to the program, but all expectations were that he would quickly right the ship once he got his own players on campus.

It hasn’t happened for Crean or the Hoosiers, who have gone just 22-36 over the past two seasons. They finished second-last, ahead of only Penn State, in the Big Ten a year ago and could drop a spot in the standings this year. They are currently tied with Iowa for last place in the standings after Sunday’s massacre in Columbus at the hands of Matta and the Buckeyes.

If it wasn’t bad enough that Ohio State waxed Indiana for the second time this season, it had to really sting that their leading-scorer, Deshaun Thomas, was a player Matta had snatched right out Crean’s backyard.

He did the same thing when he snatched Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr., two players out of Indianapolis, back in 2006, but Thomas is the first one that has come at Crean’s expense.

The reigning Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana, not to mention the state’s third all-time leading scorer, torched the Hoosiers for 22 points of the bench in an 82-61 win Sunday.

“He was hitting open shots, he really was. Give credit to him. He made good plays,” Crean said of Thomas, who he tried to sway from Ohio State the way Sampson did with Eric Gordon at Illinois.

“He made some and-ones and got hot with the three. He's one of the all-time leading scorers in the history of Indiana, so he can score. Today it was his day and we didn't do a good enough job guarding him.”

Maybe they would have, if only Crean had thought to use his resources the way Matta does.

“I reached out to the master. I spoke with coach (Bob) Knight the other day and he gave me this defensive drill,” he said of the Indiana coaching legend, who first played his college ball at Ohio State.

“Our players hate it, but I think it made them a lot better.”

It’s only fitting it would come at the expense of Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers.

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