Last season, IU women’s basketball tied a program record with three wins against ranked opponents.
Each win came with the Hoosiers as an unranked underdog.
But, as expectations are sky-high for IU Coach Teri Moren and her 2016-17 squad, IU won’t have the benefit of sneaking up on ranked teams this season. The Hoosiers will, however, have a chance to shatter that record of three victories against ranked opponents as their schedule is rife with elite opposition.
Moren has stressed throughout the preseason that she wants her team to be challenged, which will certainly be the case in both the non-conference and the conference portions of IU’s schedule.
“We feel there is a good balance in and away from Assembly Hall,” Moren said in an August release about the team’s schedule. “The strength of the non-conference schedule will prepare us for the always difficult Big Ten schedule. The month of February will be an incredible challenge for our team but one we’ll embrace and look forward to.”
No. 23 IU has one currently ranked opponent, No. 20 Florida, on its non-conference schedule, and three more non-conference opponents — Auburn, Chattanooga and North Carolina State — received votes. With all four of those matchups coming on the road, the Hoosiers will be tested away from home before the Big Ten schedule even begins.
Within its Big Ten schedule, IU was quite fortunate to be scheduled against No. 6 Maryland and No. 7 Ohio State only once apiece, and both games at home.
IU also plays Michigan State, which received the most votes of any school outside the AP top 25, on the road in February. In a four-day period in early February, the Hoosiers will take on both the Spartans and Terrapins.
Navigating a tough and balanced schedule against teams with varying strengths will require different looks and formulas for success from the Hoosiers. Last season, IU relied on the same few players to get them through games. Three Hoosiers averaged more than 30 minutes per game, and only two more averaged over 20.
This year, with nine returning players and five newcomers, Moren can go deeper into her bench and experiment with different lineup variations. In Sunday’s exhibition win against the University of Indianapolis, 12 Hoosiers saw at least 10 minutes each on the court.
“As we always remind our players, playing time is always up for grabs,” Moren said Monday on her radio show. “I think it’s healthy that we have the competition that we have right now in our practices.”
Junior guard Tyra Buss, junior forward Amanda Cahill and senior guard Alexis Gassion are likely to be mainstays in the starting lineup, but the third guard spot and second post player may rotate. Seniors Karlee McBride and Jenn Anderson filled the roles, respectively, at the end of last season, but both started out on the bench during the exhibition.
Regardless of lineup, IU will try to outrun and outgun other teams. Part of the reason why sophomore forward Kym Royster started and played well in Sunday’s exhibition was her ability to run the floor, and Moren said as much after the game.
The only way to tackle a deep and balanced schedule is with a deep and balanced lineup, and the Hoosiers seem to have the tools necessary to do so. Moren knows if her team is ever struggling, she’ll have more than enough players who are willing and able to step up.
“If we feel like we’re not getting what we need on the defensive end or the offensive end, then certainly we will make some changes there,” Moren said. “You’re rewarded for your results and your performance.”