NCAA BK

Crean proving to be a real Harbaugh

Indiana head coach Tom Crean reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game
Tom Crean lost in Big Ten tourney semis, but bet on Indiana making Final Four.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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Tom Crean has proven to be a real Harbaugh. His Indiana Hoosiers lost to Wisconsin Saturday in the Big Ten tournament, and he was suspiciously gracious, confusingly polite.

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You may know by now that Crean, Indiana’s basketball coach, is married to Jim and John Harbaugh’s sister, Joani. Jim and John, brothers and Super Bowl opponents, are — and I say this in the nicest possible way — asses.

Somehow, a brother-in-law has picked up all the family traits, possibly while passing the potatoes at Thanksgiving? Crean is behaving just like the Harbaugh boys, and about to take his team just as far.

In the end, Saturday’s 68-56 loss isn’t going to matter to Indiana. You can look around the web and find nervous chatter about whether the Hoosiers might lose their No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, whether they might not get the Indianapolis regional, and home games, whether they have other problems.

But there’s a bigger issue. And it’s a matter of what losing does to you. It will do nothing to Indiana, because this is a team that takes its attitude from its coach.

The Hoosiers are becoming the 49ers and Ravens.

The media here at the Big Ten tournament, nibbling away on popcorn, is still in a bit of a tizzy over the way that Crean has been rude to them, made them wait after games before giving interviews. He had blown off congratulatory handshakes with other teams after losses.

And of course, the defining moment: Last week, after Indiana beat Michigan, Crean met at halfcourt with Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer, who used to be an assistant at Indiana under controversial Kelvin Sampson, and said, “You know what you did. You helped wreck the program. You helped wreck that program.’’

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Meyer was actually cleared of wrongdoing during Sampson’s tenure at Indiana, which ended with NCAA violations. But whatever. Crean has his own take.

The turnaround he has accomplished at Indiana, from wreckage to champion in five years, has been incredible. And this was his victory lap. The weird thing, though, was the look on his face after he talked to Meyer.

Check out the video. Take a look. He had a weird grin.

I mean, Crean doesn’t even have any Harbaugh blood in him. Luckily, Meyer didn’t have the same high school mentality of Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who tried to get into a fight with Jim Harbaugh in 2011 after a postgame “handshake.’’

Bad sportsmanship. Poor taste. Low class. That’s what people are saying about Crean.

They’re all right. But so what? The truth is, these brothers-in-law have reinvented and mastered the postgame greeting.

Both Harbaughs and Crean are on the top of the sports world now because of it. Or at least, because of the attitude that comes with it.

Crean told the media he apologized for the incident, which I highly doubt. After Saturday’s game, he sought out Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and did everything but make out with him. And before the game, Crean went over and made nice with Wisconsin’s assistants.

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This was a clear make-up call, as Crean was ripped for his cursory, walk-by handshakes after the Wisconsin game during the regular season. It’s hard to say why he felt the make-up call was needed; probably PR or recruiting or something.

I’m sure it sounds as if I’m ripping Crean. Actually, I’m admiring him. I mean, he has other coaches and media tied up in knots over his handshake. All he’s worried about is building the Hoosiers and getting them back to their former greatness under former coach and well-known, all-around sweet guy Bobby Knight.

Crean is erratic, paranoid, a little off. Just like Jim and John. Crean also appears to be doing the right things, keeping players focused and working, graduating. Even graduating early.

It’s not that Indiana players are erratic, a little off, etc. But there’s a certain air that Crean has created, a chip-on-shoulder toughness.

That air, and the Crean/Harbaugh behavior might be embarrassing someday, if those teams ever become losers. But it’s not now.

On Saturday, Wisconsin stuffed Indiana’s offense, which couldn’t find any rhythm. Wisconsin has been doing that to people all year, and has beaten the Hoosiers both times they played.

“Just means we have a bunch of guys that want to play and play hard,’’ Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz said. “Kind of how college basketball has gone this whole year. I think we have had numerous times a change in No. 1, and I think it’s going to make for a great NCAA tournament because I don’t think a whole lot of 1 seeds are going to be making the Final Four.’’

Indiana will. Wisconsin beat up Michigan the same way a day earlier. Michigan, once No. 1 this year, left looking fragile, unable to take the punch. Indiana didn’t look that way at all. The Hoosiers are going to be just fine, and are as good a bet as any to win the national championship.

When it was over Saturday, Crean stopped and shook Ryan’s hand. It lingered. They spoke.

“I told him he’s a great coach,’’ Crean said, “and I always looked up to him and what he’s done in the program.’’

Ryan was probably confused.

Tagged: Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan

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