In All Seriousness...Gotta Love Their Passion
I have a pal that's an IU fan and alum...check that, I have quite a few that are both. More than that, living in Indianapolis, I am nearly surrounded by IU fans that have no connection to that God-forsaken place other than they were born and raised in my home state. A few weeks ago, they came out of the woodwork though.
If you were at Kroger, you saw dusty "We're back" and "Crean and Crimson" shirts after IU's well-earned Big Ten championship. After all, IU didn't just win the regular season title, they won it convincingly. That's impressive. For years, we Purdue fans have placed importance in what happened in January and February. It does matter after all...it really matters when your favorite team doesn't win much in March.
The funny thing is, IU fans have mocked us for decades when we talked about the BT championships and head-to-head IU v Purdue record. This year, those were the things they pointed to as the signs of success. There's no doubt that their measuring stick has changed...but their opinions, as a group, are like the Spring wind in Indiana...different each day.
When I asked my IU pals about their opinion of Tom Crean in early January, they told...no assured me that he was on his way out come March. Brad Stevens had reached out to Fred Glass via back channel communication vehicles to let Fred know that it was time to come 'home.' Yeah, Stevens might have grown up a fan of IU...so did Matt Painter, by the way. It seems that everyone in the damned state grew up rooting for Bobby and co. other than me and Tom Crean, now that I think of it.
But I keep waiting for the announcement, that these IU sages told me about, to become reality. After all, things are amazing in Bloomington. Who wouldn't wanna leave the most storied, or second most storied (depending on perspective) basketball entity on the planet to coach at IU?
Last night, the best active basketball coach, in the college or pro game, helped lead his team to a 54 game homecourt winning streak-ending victory. His Celtics are pretty good for a team built with less talent than most teams in the league...it took him a few seasons, but he's doing what he was hired to do -- winning. And he's not going to be doing that in Bloomington any time soon, thank God.
For me, no worse scenario could occur than Stevens being hired by IU -- he's a likable guy after all...and IU, well... I see the damned candy striped pants on a person, and I immediately judge them. It's not right, but it's a fact. It's a first impression hole that these lemmings dig, that they have to find their way out of...many don't do it.
Talk to them, go ahead. Sure, you're not going to see grown men in candy striped pants in the near future because they lost...but if you happen to see an adult male in these pants, chat them up. Ask them what they think of Crean...now.
Things are good...the ship has been righted...Crean has figured things out. Okie dokie. Make no bones about it, Blackmon's injury forced Crean to look away from his beloved 5-star players to a guy further down on the bench...and it paid massive dividends. OG is a lockdown defender and really good basketball player and made a difference to how IU played this season. Crean should send James Blackmon a thank you card for changing the trajectory of his career at IU.
While I giggle with glee when IU fans defend Crean, I should do nothing but encourage this train of thought. Crean now has three Sweet 16s and two BT championships. Matt Painter, who IU fans think is a boob, has two Sweet 16s and two BT championships (yes, I know one is in the BT tournament...a place IU never wins). Their metric of success has clearly changed...I don't think ours, as a fanbase has...good or bad.
The majority of Purdue fans seem to be OK with winning 26 games and nothing other than a third tier pre-season tourney championship this season...I'm not OK with this actually. On GBI's Knucklehead board, someone brought it to my attention that 35 college basketball teams won 25 games or more this season. In an age where you can load up a schedule with creampuffs, 25 wins is equivalent to 6 or 7 wins in football (I know, I can't remember what that's like either). It'll get you into the dance, but it doesn't mean you've done anything special.
We know that firing Matt Painter as the program seems to be in an upswing, following winning 26 games, and being ranked all season, is not anywhere near a logical option...but we also want things to be better. Our expectations were pretty positive and pretty fair...and we were disappointed a few weeks ago. If you accept the ending of the season as 'okay,' you're part of the problem that Purdue athletics are mired in. The days of a class that expected to go to the Sweet 16 each year seems like ancient history.
Let's look at the way the coaches of the two programs ended their seasons, shall we? Painter was almost robotic when Purdue lost to a less-talented team that they all but had beaten. Painter was steady afterward citing stats and situations that led to the debacle. Conversely, Crean was crying and holding another (gigantic) crying man...emotional...in disbelief. These two coaches are microcosms of their fanbases, it seems. One group sighed a collective "C'est la vie" after losing a game that they had no business losing on a pretty big stage. Another had already booked their trips to Houston (two rounds early), only to find out that they had no business competing with, let alone beating a truly elite team.
Definitions of banners and success might change, but we're all forced to live in the now. We're all doing it, after all...Purdue fans, IU fans...we're kind of in the same boat, we just handle it differently. IU was a truly elite program in the middle-late 80s under Bobby Knight. They won national championships with regularity. Purdue was a damned good program that was perpetually ranked, won BT championships somewhat regularly was seeded as a 1 or 2. Both were nationally-important programs almost every season. We've all shifted our gaze, we've all changed our metric by which we define success. It's how we react to our adjusted expectations that varies greatly.
At the end of the day, it's all about perspective.