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Izzo gives Indiana coach strong endorsement

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – Indiana coach Tom Crean came under heavy scrutiny this week.

On Saturday, he might have gotten the biggest endorsement of all.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo used nearly 5 minutes of his news conference following the Spartans’ 72-72 victory to explain why Crean should keep his job after this season.

“Am I a little frustrated with it? Yeah I am. Do I think he’s a hell of a coach? Yes I do. Do I think he’s got to make adjustments just like I do and everybody else? Probably,” Izzo said. “But I’m telling you the guy can coach, the guy can recruit and he built my program. He helped me build my program. My program wouldn’t be as good as it is if it wasn’t for Tom Crean. I mean that. I really do.”

It’s not the first time Izzo, the Big Ten’s dean of coaches, has defended a colleague.

And it’s not the first time Crean has been under fire with the Hoosiers.

But after losing their third straight game Saturday, going 3-6 since the start of February and their NCAA Tournament hopes waning, anxious fans are voicing their frustrations.

During Tuesday night’s home loss to Iowa, Assembly Hall was filled with boos. Since then, local radio talk shows have debated Crean’s job status and some callers tried to orchestrate a boycott of Saturday’s game. The seats were nearly filled to capacity, and there was not much booing.

Online message boards also have been inundated with posts calling for Crean’s ouster and lobbying for possible replacements.

Even athletic director Fred Glass even chimed in, telling several news outlets that he fully supported Crean.

Crean and his players said they haven’t paid much attention to all the outside noise because they’re focused on basketball.

Izzo, in contrast, had heard enough.

“I think he’s a great recruiter. I think he’s a great X’s and O’s coach,” he said. “I think he gets misread sometimes for a variety of reasons – some that he’s got to own up to and some that he doesn’t. But you can’t have distractions and be successful at this level if you care.”

Indiana’s problems have been well-documented.

Now in his seventh season, Crean has taken Indiana to the NCAA Tournament twice, both times with NBA lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller on the roster. The other four seasons, the Hoosiers haven’t even played in a postseason tourney. And Crean’s teams have struggled late. He is 27-22 in February and March since Indiana emerged from the NCAA scandal that gutted the program about the time Crean took over.

The troubles off the court have been equally disconcerting.

In November, Crean suspended Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson for four games after they failed drug tests. Freshman Emmitt Holt also was suspended four games after the car he was driving hit sophomore forward Devin Davis. Police did not cite Holt in the accident but said both had been drinking alcohol though both were underage.

Davis was hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury. He has re-enrolled in classes and is doing non-contact work with his teammates at practice.

Earlier in 2014, Robinson, Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea also were cited with alcohol-related charges.

Izzo believes complaints about Indiana’s program being out of control are unfair, and that Crean is still the coach to get the program back on track.

“Sooner or later, the players have got to have some of the onus on them, too,” Izzo said. “When you have incidents that happen that are completely out of your hands, that distraction is incredible. I talked him Tom off the ledge then (in November). I couldn’t believe how positive he was. I talked to him every night in the hospital (visiting Davis). Sometimes these kids, they do not understand that ‘OK, my bad,’ that’s on the playground. You can’t be ‘my bad’ at this level and compete at this level for championships. ‘My bad’ doesn’t make it.

“This program is out of control? Let me tell you something, all of you and my writers know it, my program had problems a few years ago, too. Look at the ticker. There are a lot of really good programs that have problems. Some keep them down a little more than others. Sooner or later, they come out.”