My optimism for Indiana Basketball needs to be validated at some point or I’m going to sound like one of those boobs in Bedford who predict a sixth National Championship before every season.
The schedule was released today, and I’m feeling very good about the chance for the Hoosiers to find a way back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the next to last season of the grim Tom Crean regime.
Indiana loses Juwan Morgan, Zach McRoberts, Evan Fitzner, and Romeo Langford while adding Butler grad-transfer Joey Brunk, and freshmen Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin. They also lost Robert Forrester and Clifton Moore to transfer, but neither made an impact while in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers return a lot of productivity in Devonte Green, Justin Smith, Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, De’Ron Davis, Race Thompson, and Damezi Anderson. Jerome Hunter appears to be regaining his health, so he may be an asset as well.
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If Hunter is back, the rotation appears to be solid at worst. Phinisee, Green, Smith, Jackson-Davis, and Davis would feature a nice miss of experience and youth. Add Brunk, Franklin, Hunter, Durham, and Thompson, and IU will have 10 guys who can contribute.
Let’s take a look at the schedule, and see if my positive waves can carry Indiana back to the Big Dance:
Archie Miller is not going to win an award for challenging his team early, and rightly so. Indiana needs wins, and they should throw a shutout during the season’s first month.
- v. Western Illinois (#291)
- v. Portland State (#286)
- v. North Alabama (#284)
- v. Troy (#249)
- v. Princeton (#175)
- v. Louisiana Tech (#141)
- v. South Dakota State (#92)
Interesting that last year’s Ken Pom ranking for each team improves with each opponent throughout November. Scheduling tomato cans early can be a good or bad thing. Either Indiana builds confidence through November with easy wins, or they forget to show up one night and really regret it on Selection Sunday. Don’t sleep on South Dakota State. They are always tough in the Summit League. IU must go 7-0 in November.
This is going to be an entirely different month for Miller and the Hoosiers with three event level challenges, two Big 10 games, and a game against an SEC opponent just for kicks.
- v. Florida State – Big 10/ACC Challenge (#14) – L
- @ Wisconsin (#16) – L
- v. UConn – Jimmy V Classic at MSG (#98) – W
- v. Nebraska (#47) – W
- v. Notre Dame – Crossroads Classic at BLF (#97) – W
- v. Arkansas (#54) – W
Minus UConn, this stretch is filled with coin flips – at best. Florida State is always tough, and despite losing a lot of talent will be tough to beat. Wisconsin at the Kohl Center is always a pain in the ass. Notre Dame is improved. Nebraska will take some time to get right under Fred Hoiberg. Arkansas lost to Indiana by three in an NIT second round game to end its season last March. Let’s say IU goes 4-2 in December for a 11-2 total.
Nothing like starting the new year with a bang. The Big 10’s most improved team is Maryland, and look where IU has to play first. In the first seven Big 10 games of 2020, the Hoosiers play four games against the conference’s best three teams. Paying attention to the ratings listed next to the teams might be a mistake. They are for last season, and are not indicative of what come be in 2020.
As mentioned, Maryland will be improved, but Purdue and Michigan will likely take a step back. Predicting in August how these games will shake out individually is a fun waste of time. What the hell else do I have to do? Look ahead to the Colts preseason game tomorrow night?
@ Maryland (#24) – IU loses after hanging around for the first 35 minutes. Hey, if I’m going to go to the trouble to predict, I want to be specific. L
v. Northwestern (#74) – I know this isn’t 1992 any more, but I refuse to believe Indiana will lose to Northwestern at Assembly Hall. W
v. Ohio State (#44) – Good bellwether game. If IU is to be taken seriously, a home contest against a quality opponent like the Buckeyes is the kind they need to win. W
@ Rutgers (#78) – Steve Pikiell is is good coach, but it’s still early for Rutgers to ascend to respectability in the Big 10. L
@ Nebraska (#47) – Year one for Fred Hoiberg is the time to get the Cornhuskers. W
v. Michigan State (#3) – For some reason, IU has had success at home against really good teams, but I can’t pick against a stacked Spartans team and maintain any credibility – even in my own mind. L
v. Maryland (#24) – Tough game. If IU wins, it will be a home upset. L
@ Penn State (#43) – IU beat Penn State last season in Happy Valley, so why not do it again? W
IU finishes it’s first month of Big 10 games 4-4, and are now 15-6.
@ Ohio State (#44) – Hoosiers lose big on the second half of back-to-back road games this week. L
v. Purdue (#9) – Guessing Indiana and Purdue will be fighting for position in this game. I’ll take IU at home. W
v. Iowa (#37) – Love seeing Fran McCaffery angry, and nothing will make Fran madder on this cold Thursday night than the Hoosiers throttling his Hawkeyes. W
@ Michigan (#6) – Whether Juwan Howard can coach is anyone’s guess. I’m guessing Michigan will be good enough to win this game in Ann Arbor. L
@ Minnesota (#46) – Winning in the Barn is tough. L
v. Penn State (#43) – I will never pick against IU at home against Penn State. It’s the principle of the thing. W
@ Purdue (#9) – Matt Painter always seems to have the Boilers ready to play Indiana at Mackey. L
IU treads water in a tough February – finishing the month 3-4 for a record of 18-10
@ Illinois (#84) – Brad Underwood will finally have Illinois playing better basketball this season. L
v. Minnesota (#46) – Hoosiers get revenge for earlier loss at Minnesota. W
v. Wisconsin (#16) – Indiana ends the regular season with a bang, not a whimper as Gard’s guards fail to guard. W
Indiana ends March 2-1 before heading up the road to Indy for the long-awaited return of the Big 10 Tournament to the city where it belongs. Hoosiers finish the regular season 20-11, and a Big 10 record of 10-10.
Big 10 Tournament
It’s sheer insanity to pick Indiana to win any games in this unholy abomination of an event (IU is 12-22 all-time without a single championship). L
Indiana finishes the season 20-12, 10-11, and is forced to sit uncomfortably perched on the bubble as the bracket is revealed for the NCAA Tournament.
The development of the freshmen, Hunter’s health, and some consistent toughness of Green and Smith would help Indiana win a couple of extra games and vault IU into the top five in the Big 10.
Sadly for teams like IU, the hires of coaches like Pikiell and Underwood continues to raise the bottom have of the conference, and makes it tough for a program like Indiana to see the results of their improvement in the Big 10.