By Drew Olson Special to Published Mar 09, 2009 at 4:30 AM

For longtime Badgers fans and Big Ten basketball observers, what happened Sunday night at the Kohl Center in Madison was not at all surprising, but still a bit tough to process.

Led by senior Joe Krabbenhoft, who scored 19 points in his final home game, Wisconsin clinched a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament by cruising past a scrappy, overmatched Indiana team, 85-61. The Badgers (19-11 overall, 10-8 conference), who seem headed for an NCAA Tournament, clearly had the superior team.

Still, the result was striking because Indiana spent several decades kicking sand in the faces of Wisconsin and other bottom-feeding Big Ten teams.

This year, the rebuilding Hoosiers are 6-24 overall and 1-17 in the Big Ten. The architect of their restoration project is Tom Crean, who left Marquette for Indiana after last season. Though the Hoosiers are rich in tradition, they led the nation in off-season turmoil.

Crean, who averaged 20 victories during his nine seasons at Marquette, took over the troubled outfit and this year fielded a team of six walk-ons, five freshmen scholarship players and two junior college transfers. Despite playing without leading scorer Devan Dumes, who was out with a knee injury, the Hoosiers battled the Badgers for the first 15 minutes before a 14-3 run effectively iced the game for Wisconsin. caught up with Crean late last week, while he was preparing to face Wisconsin and Marquette was getting ready to honor four seniors Crean brought to Milwaukee -- Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews and Dwight Burke.

"Those guys won a bunch of games," Crean said. "They definitely made their mark." Can we get you anything from Wisconsin that you are missing? Some custard? A couple bratwurst? Four seniors who have each played in more than 100 games?

Tom Crean: Obviously, I'd take the seniors. I'm trying to be on a good exercise routine. the custard and bratwurst would not be good for that. Were you a fan of John Mellencamp's music before you got the job, and what do you think about it now? (Mellencamp is a huge IU booster).

TC: I loved it before. Now that I'm in the same town with him, it's great. He comes to games. I've gotten to meet him and his family. It's been great. That's an added bonus to living in Bloomington.

OMC: Your team has played hard down the stretch. Last week on Senior Night, you took a Top 10 team (Michigan State) to the wire and then said goodbye to your only senior, Kyle Taber. What was that night like?

TC: We were in such a tough game, and certainly that creates a lot of emotion. Our crowd was phenomenal. We took them down to the wire. We had our chances, but we didn't block out at the end of the game. We didn't give ourselves a chance to come down and tie it or take the lead.

Senior night, no matter if it was the first one back and Marquette with John Cliff and Bart Miller and John Polonoski or the first one at Indiana -- they are always special; always very, very hard to deal with. There is some finality to it, but at the same time, it's a good feeling, too, because you've been around guys who have accomplished things.

OMC: You're not used to losing and Indiana isn't either. How tough has it been this year?

TC: It's been beyond a challenge. I don't even know if you can look at it as a challenge. I've just tried to keep it in perspective as much as possible when we're not coaching. It's a very young team. we knew we were giving up something very special when we left Marquette. Certainly, that has continued to play out to be exactly what it should be and what I thought it would be - a very successful team, very successful program, very successful players and a very well-coached team.

When we came in here, we certainly didn't expect to have to gut the whole team and change everything around, but that's exactly what happened. You realize as time goes on that you're in something that none of us really bargained for in the sense of having to build a whole new team. The fans didn't bargain for it. Certainly the new players that have come in, it's not their fault that they didn't have a lot of older players along with them to help show them the way.

We've all kind of gotten through it together. It's been a good trip. It really has. These guys have worked very hard. The fans have been great. At the same time, we've had enough experiences at Marquette to be a part of things to help guys get better and we think we're on the right track with what we're doing.

OMC: Coaches like to turn negatives into positives. Is there any advantage you can gain from not preparing for a post-season tournament. Does it help in terms of recruiting or off-season work?

TC: I think the recruiting is very important, there is no doubt about that. We've been out a lot. The visibility was really important this year, not just in the state with our fans, but certainly in the recruiting circles in-state. When you have a program like this that has been so tradition-filled for so long, you can do a lot of different things nationally with it, but you need to take care of home base.

I think it was really important that we be out in Indiana and with the state tournaments around the country, I think that's really important.

We won't get much time off. Once the season is over, we'll be back at it with the strength training and basketball development and move forward with that.

I'm sure I'll watch some NCAA tournament games and NIT games and maybe go to a game or two.

OMC: How did you react when you heard about Dominic James' season-ending injury?

TC: It was the night we played at home against Northwestern. We lost, and I was going to meet the media and I heard from two different people. What was already a tough night, emotionally, got worse. I felt very bad for him. I left him a message on his 414 (phone) number.

I love those guys. That's what was so hard about leaving. In nine years there, there were some incredible relationships with people that we still have. At the same time, the relationships with your players are really what you're going to bank on and you count on and you don't want to lose those.

I know there was a lot of hurt across the board when we did make a change. But, at the same time, nothing has ever changed the way I feel about them. Hopefully, it hasn't changed too much the way they feel about me, because we went through a lot together.

OMC: You recruited the four seniors that Marquette honored (last weekend). James, Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews and Dwight Burke. A lot of times in recruiting, you hope to get one or two guys that live up to or exceed expectations. It seems like all four of them did that to some extent.

TC: They went above and beyond it. Dominic was pretty highly recruited. Wes was fairly highly recruited by Wisconsin and Stanford. Jerel was really undervalued. I think it was Purdue, Dayton and Illinois State. He's going above and beyond. Those guys all came in what a great attitude and a togetherness. and it's really brought forth. The great thing they had when they were young, they had guys like Steve Novak, Joe Chapman and Chris Grimm and guys like that who had been in the program and been through it. (Those four guys) came in and made them better..

The great thing about that senior class is that they continued to improve. They added things to their games all the time.

I've been around very few work ethics like Jerel McNeal. When the light bulb went on for him as to how important it was to spend time shooting the basketball ... we didn't even schedule individual instruction for him any more. He was in the gym so much. Those are the kinds of things that separate players. That's why those guys deserve every accolade and every bit of respect they can get.

They've made their mark. There is no doubt about it. I miss those guys a lot. Buzz (Williams) has done an excellent job coaching them.

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.