By Matt Youmans
VSiN senior editor
A rare feat is about to be pulled off by Tom Crean, who could be coaching his final home game for Indiana today.
Rewind to November, when the Hoosiers knocked off Kansas and North Carolina. At that point, Indiana seemed certain to be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. At this point, despite beating two potential No. 1 seeds, Crean’s team is a long shot to be in the tournament.
The Hoosiers (15-13) have lost seven of their past eight games, with the win coming against Penn State in triple overtime.
Indiana’s best shot — and maybe last shot — to win another one for Crean comes against Northwestern, which is 20-8 and likely headed for its first-ever NCAA invitation. The Wildcats, who finish with home games against Michigan and Purdue, still have a little work to do to feel secure on Selection Sunday.
Northwestern, off a 16-point setback at Illinois four days ago, has lost four of its past six and is not arriving at Assembly Hall as a hot team.
I am hesitantly backing the Hoosiers as 4-point favorites because of 6-foot-10 sophomore Thomas Bryant and junior guard James Blackmon Jr. Bryant is capable of dominating in the paint, and Blackmon is a streak shooter who’s due for a hot night in what might be his final home game.
Crean’s case is a curious one. A year ago, he won the Big Ten regular-season title and beat Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. Now, amid booster and fan frustration, he might be on the way out of Bloomington.
It’s annoying to watch Crean coach. He nervously paces up and down the sideline, resembling a guy jacked up on Red Bull and wanting to chain-smoke cigarettes. His teams are typically soft on the defensive end, yet run a fluid offense. He had done a pretty good job rebuilding Indiana’s program until the bottom fell out in the second half of this season.
If Crean is out, some possible replacements in the discussion could be UCLA’s Steve Alford, Arizona’s Sean Miller, Florida’s Mike White, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and even Northwestern’s Chris Collins.
Four more college basketball plays today (home team in CAPS):
Nevada (-7½) over UNLV: This line opened at 6½, and support for the favorite is no surprise. The Wolf Pack embarrassed the Rebels 104-77 on Feb. 8 in Reno. UNLV is 0-8 straight up and 1-6-1 against the spread in its past eight. Nevada has four players — Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver, D.J. Fenner and Jordan Caroline — averaging more than 14 points per game. The Rebels quit in the second half of a 23-point loss at Air Force three days ago.
Dave Rice, fired as UNLV coach in January 2016, returns to Las Vegas as an assistant on the opposite bench. Nevada coach Eric Musselman will have his team fired up for this rivalry.
MICHIGAN (-1) over Purdue: The Boilermakers lead Wisconsin by one game in the Big Ten race, but this is their toughest remaining test. Sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan, averaging 18.6 points and 12.9 rebounds, is a force for a Purdue team that boasts impressive size and perimeter shooting. The Wolverines are heating up by winning four of their past five, and a win here would be a big boost to their NCAA Tournament hopes. Michigan’s John Beilein gets the in-game coaching edge.
Brigham Young (plus-21) over GONZAGA: Money is showing on the Zags, who are 29-0 and 20-5-1 ATS. But the line looks inflated enough to take a shot with the underdog. The Cougars can score, so they are capable of covering even when this turns into a blowout, and they won in their past two trips to Spokane. Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski will lead Gonzaga to a comfortable win, but the true line without inflation probably should be 18.
ARIZONA (-1½) over Ucla: Freshman point guard Lonzo Ball runs the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense (92.1 points per game) for the Bruins. But the Wildcats rank in the top 30 in scoring defense (64.0), and they controlled UCLA most of the way in a 96-85 win on Jan. 21. I’ll bet on the better defensive team that is 15-0 at home this season.
Season: 4-1 against the spread