Before I really begin, you need to watch this postgame comment by Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman. It is all class, and it rightfully has gone viral. The college hoops coaching profession is the most fraternal and friendly of any major American sport, and this exemplifies it so well. In victory, Coffman speaks not of his team, but of his friend, Tom Crean; his town, Fort Wayne; and his sport, college basketball.
That is a man only moments removed from the biggest win of his life, and in that moment, surrounded on the floor by crazed supporters, delirious players and an alleged bleach-drinking fan, he understands what the win means. He understands what Crean is feeling, but he also knows how good a game like this is for his team, his town, for the game.
"They'll be talking about Indiana coming to Fort Wayne for the next 50 years," Coffman accurately predicts.
This outcome will stimulate a town's optimism and attitude all the way into December. Fort Wayne 71, Indiana 68 will be the driving topic of conversation at thousands of Thanksgiving dinners this week. Indiana fans can be angry, but the rest of the country and the sport of college basketball is better for having coaches like Crean agree to playing games like this. It's how things used to be scheduled decades ago, before contract bonuses and fragile egos took over terms when compiling non-conference slates.
Coffman gets it, and I only hope Crean saw that video before he went to bed early Wednesday morning. The three-hour bus ride home down I-69 to Bloomington was no doubt a depressing one, but Crean needs to be heavily commended. Coffman has been trying for years, ever since he got to Fort Wayne, to get bigger programs to come play his Mastodons. Nearly all decline, of course, for the very reason we watched unfold on Tuesday night.
But given the state's never-ending passion for college basketball, Crean agreed to a one-time trip. And he had to know he wouldn't be facing a hostile crowd. Hoosiers fans bought up tickets in a big way. It was a road game only in venue, as Indiana fans -- many of whom no doubt live in Fort Wayne -- took over Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night. This is a venue that used to house an NBA franchise, a place that's hosted two NBA Finals and an All-Star game. A haunt that's closing in on 70 year of existence.
We don't get this discussion if not for Crean. Tuesday night was witness to just the fifth time in Indiana program history that a top-three-ranked Hoosiers team lost to an unranked opponent. It was the first time in 15 tries that Fort Wayne defeated a ranked opponent. The Mastodons are a legit team this year. It could define itself as the best squad in the Summit League. They might turn into that 12 seed that becomes the chic upset pick in the first round.
And if that happens, Indiana's loss will only look better.
The story of Fort Wayne's season starts with what happened on Tuesday night, though. Coffman's words are goodwill for the coaching profession. Others should hear what he said and take that into account much more than the result. Crean's job is beyond safe. Indiana will vie for the Big Ten title.
And the result should not dissuade coaches at big programs from scheduling the occasional November road game against a good program. Indiana is a talented team. It will overcome this loss. Crean gave a program a memory that will linger for decades. The difference is what makes college basketball so fun. That is bigger and better than scheduling sub-200 teams for home games that don't help promote the sport or increase your resume for Selection Sunday.
"I'm sure he's second-guessing that, but he shouldn't," Coffman said on SportsCenter early Wednesday morning. "This is good for college basketball."
Not exactly. Games like Indiana at Fort Wayne are great for college basketball. There was a March sensation in a November basketball game. We can't ask for more. Actually, we can. Neutral-court exempt tournaments offer us some interesting matchups and inevitable upsets, but no games played in Hawaii or the Bahamas or Cancun or Brooklyn or Orlando or Charleston or anywhere will match what an old, spacious barn brought to life on Tuesday night. We have Tom Crean to thank, not blame, for that.