Sure, Crean's second-ranked Indiana team held off its undermanned, downtrodden foe. But he was left with plenty to dwell on. The Hoosiers' effort and execution in a 67-59 win over Northwestern was superior, but their strategy was poor.
Northwestern wasn't supposed to beat Indiana, not against one of the nation's top teams. Heck, it wasn't even expected to hang around. Crean was completely outcoached by Bill Carmody—why the Wildcats had but a prayer.
Out of the gates, the Wildcats looked lost. The offense had no rhythm and the team lacked life. They were lucky to trail by just 14 at halftime. But the first stanza exposed what Carmody could do to counter the Hoosiers.
When a fresh 20 minutes was put on the clock, Northwestern looked renewed, and its halftime adjustments showed. The ball movement on offense was efficient and the decisions were better, not to mention the overall effort was greatly different.
In man-to-man defense, Northwestern applied the heat by switching on screens, creating matchup problems that stifled the Hoosiers' attack. Far too often, Indiana was forced into uncomfortable shots. Crean was slow to counter the attack.
It never became a contest until Carmody switched his defense to a 1-3-1 zone with heavy pressure on the perimeter and the occasional double-team on the ball. The Hoosiers weren't ready it.
Just when the game was getting out of reach for the Wildcats, they clawed back. A 16-point deficit was soon cut to just five, courtesy of a 13-2 run. A talented Indiana offense—the nation's highest-scoring unit—was flustered.
"They took advantage of our mistakes," Crean admitted after the game. "That's what Northwestern does better than anybody in the country."
In spite of more second-half struggles, the Hoosiers prevailed. It shouldn't have been a nail-biter.
Crean is one of the best leaders in college basketball. His success is undisputed and résumé is remarkable. This season, his Hoosiers appear primed for a Final Four appearance. However, he wasn't the best coach at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Thanks to a detailed scouting report and thorough preparations, Bill Carmody had his Northwestern team ready to play. His decisions were concise and timely—affording the Wildcats a chance.
The masterminded head coach proved he can go toe to toe with anyone.