Indiana Basketball: 2011-2012 Could Be Make or Break Season for Tom Crean

Ezra AmacherContributor IIIMay 14, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, IN - DECEMBER 27:  Tom Crean the Head Coach of the Indiana Hoosiers gives instructions to Verdell Jones III #12 during the Big Ten Conference game against the Penn State Nittany Lions on December 27, 2010 at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It doesn't seem all that long ago that Indiana was playing Maryland for the 2002 national championship. At the time, the Hoosiers were still one of the premier basketball programs in the country.

Since then, the program that used to consistently compete for national titles has fallen into mediocrity, largely due to the recruiting violations committed by former head coach Kelvin Sampson.

Tom Crean took over as head coach of the Hoosiers in 2008 and many people thought it wouldn't be long before Indiana was back as one of the elite teams in the country.

However, the rebuilding process has gone a lot slower than Indiana fans hoped and if this season doesn't produce a postseason tournament berth, Crean could end up being on the hot seat, if not fired.

Indiana's record under Crean is 28-46 and 8-46 in Big Ten play. In Crean's first season as head coach, the Hoosiers went 6-25 and have failed to increase their win total dramatically in the past two years.

Meanwhile, Ohio State has taken control of the conference behind the play of Evan Turner and then Jared Sullinger. Purdue is now a fixture in the top 25 and Michigan State will always be in the running for the conference championship as long as they have Tom Izzo as head coach.

Indiana's recent collapse has certainly opened the door for the rest of the conference and is another reason why Crean will be under heavy pressure to bring the Hoosiers back to the top of the Big Ten, along with their state. As it stands right now, they are probably the third best team in the state, behind both Purdue and Butler.

Next year, Indiana should have more talent as the team's leading scorers, Christian Watford and Verdel Jones III, both return. They also have a hyped freshman class coming in, led by McDonald's All-American Cody Zeller.

Zeller is a 6'11" power forward out of Washington, Indiana, who will be expected to have an immediate impact. He is said to have great size and length and he also has good mobility. Perhaps the most important skill Zeller brings is his rebounding. Last season, the Hoosiers only grabbed 33 rebounds a game, something they will certainly need to improve on.

The outlook for Indiana next season varies on who you ask. They appear to have the talent to make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid, but are still no where near the top of the Big Ten.

What everyone can agree on is that if Indiana doesn't put together a winning season and at least show promise of returning to its glory days, Crean could likely be fired at the end of next season.

It is Crean's team now, and the fault of Indiana's future failures can no longer fall on the shoulders of previous coaches. Crean will be blamed if the Hoosiers don't improve but will be applauded if he can turn around a struggling program.

Making the NIT is a realistic goal for Indiana but if Crean wants to secure his job, he might need his team to make the Big Dance.