By Jeff Goodman
Tom Crean will sleep well tonight. Maybe he won't even have Brad Stevens nightmares any longer.
The Indiana coach, in his fourth season since taking over one of the most storied programs in the country, watched his Hoosiers team pull away from Stevens' Butler Bulldogs on Sunday night fr a 75-59 win.
This was a huge victory for Crean. In fact, I'll go as far as to say it was the most important in his IU tenure, largely because he ended up on the winning end against Stevens - a guy who many still believe could wind up replacing him in Bloomington if the Hoosiers don't continue to make steady progress.
Indiana had won five consecutive games to start the season, but it wasn't exactly Murderer's Row.
The Hoosiers knocked off Stony Brook, Chattanooga, Evansville, Savannah State and Gardner-Webb - by an average of more than 25 points per game.
Crean's group ran its record to 6-0 against a mediocre Butler team, but that was somewhat irrelevant.
Because Crean had to win this one.
He's jealous and/or envious of Stevens - just like nearly every other coach in America that has watched the Boy Wonder make two consecutive national title game appearances. But it's different for Crean because he's supposed to own the state - and yet it's been Butler who have been the darlings in Indiana.
The win total has climbed from six to 10 to 12 over the first three years in the Crean Era - and the Hoosiers have gotten out of the gates without a blemish thus far.
This team is more talented than the first three. Freshman Cody Zeller is a future pro, Will Sheehey, who went for a career-high 21 against Butler, has made significant strides since his freshman campaign and the backcourt of Verdell Jones and Jordan Hulls has been solid. Christian Watford no longer has to be "The Guy" and that's exactly what Crean needs in order to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.
The schedule certainly gets more difficult over the next few weeks with N.C. State, Kentucky and Notre Dame on the slate prior to the start of Big Ten play.
However, Crean needed this one. Badly.