The hype surrounding IU’s 2016-17 campaign began just weeks after last season ended, with ESPN slotting IU at 23rd in its early rankings in April.
After making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002 and advancing past the first round for the first time in more than 30 years, the Hoosiers are back on the map in the world of collegiate women’s basketball and eager to prove they belong.
For reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year Teri Moren, last season was good — but not good enough.
At IU’s first official practice Monday, Moren stressed the need to let last season stay in the past. At the same time, Moren said, the Hoosiers can use last year’s success to set even bigger goals.
“You always set your expectations higher, and the good thing I have with this group is that they were sorely disappointed after last season’s (season-ending) defeat against Notre Dame,” Moren said. “They’ve let it go, but they’re also using it as motivation too.”
IU returns nine of 11 players who saw time last season and more than 93 percent of its scoring output. The typical starting five and top six scorers are all still with the team.
The Hoosiers also welcome three freshmen and two transfers. Senior guard Amber Deane and sophomore guard Tia Elbert, both with prior Division I experience, can provide an immediate boost to a backcourt that already contains junior guard Tyra Buss.
Buss scored 18.8 points and 4.4 assists per game last season on her way to being named First Team All-Big Ten. With even more scoring options available this year, Buss will have plenty of opportunities to record more assists.
Buss said although the team knows what it is capable of, it is trying not to get too far ahead of itself.
“I definitely think that we have more expectations, but we’re not really even thinking about that,” Buss said. “We’re just thinking about getting better as a team and growing. We have a lot more experience, and our newcomers have played well this offseason, so we’re just excited to get things going.”
Junior and 2015-16 Second Team All-Big Ten forward Amanda Cahill said returning so many key players will be beneficial for team chemistry. Cahill and Buss have started each of IU’s 64 games over the past two seasons.
“Having a big core of us back this year is really helpful,” Cahill said. “I think we’ve always believed in ourselves, but building off last year we want to continue to improve. We got a little taste of that success we could achieve, but there’s a lot of room to improve.”
With heightened expectations comes heightened national television exposure, and IU will certainly be experiencing that benefit this season. IU is scheduled for 11 nationally televised games this season, including one on CBS and one on ESPN2.
They will also play nine games on the Big Ten Network, and all remaining home Big Ten and nonconference games will be on BTN+. Last season, the Hoosiers played four games on Big Ten Network and no regular season games on the ESPN networks.
Moren said this season will go a long way toward determining the legacy of the senior class. IU’s five seniors have the chance to make the NCAA tournament in back to back years for the first time since 1994-95.
“Getting to the tournament is extremely hard, and they know that,” Moren said. “But now it’s about advancing. Especially with this senior group, there’s a legacy here that they want to leave. Last year was special, but we have the opportunity to ride the wave in terms of last year but also take that next step.”
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