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October 29, 2008

Preseason story line No. 13: Starting over

Rivals.com has selected the top 25 story lines for the 2008-09 season and will be revealing one daily. At No. 13 we focus on new Indiana coach Tom Crean and the daunting task he faces in rebuilding one of college basketball's powerhouse programs.

Calling the cupboard bare at Indiana would be an understatement.

Nobody inherited less to work with in terms of personnel than new Indiana coach Tom Crean. Seven players either transferred or were kicked off the team in the fallout following the messy resignation of Kelvin Sampson, who was pushed out in the middle of last season after making illegal recruiting calls the same infraction he was found guilty of in his previous job at Oklahoma.

Combine that with the loss of three seniors and one-and-done phenom Eric Gordon, who was taken with the seventh pick in the 2008 NBA draft, and Indiana returns just one scholarship player. That player isn't a guy Crean can build around: Senior forward Kyle Taber, a former walk-on, averaged 1.3 points in 11.2 minutes per game.

Crean, 42, doesn't even have the luxury of having Taber right now. Taber has been sidelined since August with a knee injury and could miss all of preseason practice.

With Indiana having no experienced players, expectations haven't been this low in Hoosierland since the pre-Bob Knight era. Indiana faces the possibility of finishing last in the Big Ten for the first time since 1969-70, when the Hoosiers went 3-11 in league play and 7-17 overall. They've had only one other losing record since, going 14-15 in 2003-04.

"We are in a tumultuous state right now," said Crean, who had a 190-96 record (66.4 percent) at Marquette from 1999-2008. "It's not our players', coaches', administrators' or fans' fault. It just happened, so we have to deal with it. We just have to get through the state we are in right now."

That state includes nine scholarship players, only eight of whom are eligible. Crean and his staff did some last-minute scrambling on the recruiting trail and signed an eight-man class that consists of five freshmen, two junior college transfers and a Division I transfer (Georgetown guard Jeremiah Rivers) who must sit out this season.

Minnesota coach Tubby Smith likened the situation to the one Rick Pitino inherited at Kentucky in 1989; he took over a Kentucky program facing NCAA probation.

"Rick Pitino basically had to start over from scratch at Kentucky, too," said Smith, who replaced Pitino in 1998 and stayed in Lexington until 2007. "The difference here is that Tom has mostly new players. That's a positive because he doesn't have to reteach a lot of those guys like most new coaches. It's not like they have already learned one system and have to transition to another."

That's quite a contrast to what Crean would have if he had remained at Marquette. The Golden Eagles return one of the nation's most experienced teams, which includes three senior guards who have been to three consecutive NCAA tournaments.

Crean isn't complaining, though. He firmly believes he can turn Indiana into a national power again, and he seems to enjoy having to devote much of his practices to teaching the most basic principles.

"This is a great time for these guys to learn," Crean said. "We cannot take anything for granted. We had our Cream and Crimson scrimmage (last week) and right away you see all the little things we have to go over. Things that we've taken for granted with a more veteran club need to be addressed for the future.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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