Al Durham believes there is a different vibe around the IU men’s basketball program this time around.
There was hype surrounding the novelty of a new season in each of Durham’s first two years. In his freshman year, it was Archie Miller’s first campaign as the Hoosiers’ head coach. Last year, the arrival of 5-star freshman Romeo Langford galvanized the state in a way it hadn’t in years.
This year however, there isn’t much news dominating the headlines, but Durham still believes there is a lot to look forward to ahead of the season opener Tuesday night against Western Illinois University.
“I feel like we have upped it a notch,” Durham said. “I feel like everybody is on the same page. Just a lot of different energy I feel like here, and I feel like we're ready to go to war for each other. I feel like we've been prepared by Coach and the staff, and I can't wait to get it started.”
IU comes into the game still with injury concerns. Sophomore guard Rob Phinisee still isn’t at full strength but isn’t ruled out. Senior guard Devonte Green is out, and his timetable is still unknown.
But the Hoosiers will have the other captain back on the floor.
Durham is now at full strength after sitting out the exhibition victory over Gannon University due to a knee and contusion bruise he sustained in the scrimmage against Marquette University.
He’ll provide much needed help in the backcourt next to freshman guard Armaan Franklin, who handled the majority of point guard duties against Gannon.
“It's definitely been a challenge, the back court not being together,” Miller said. “Our chemistry and that being reality is it's probably our most experienced group of people playing together that haven't been a part of it.”
The matchup with Western Illinois is the first of eight home games to start the season for IU. It won’t be until Dec. 3 when Florida State University visits Bloomington that IU will face a power-five conference opponent.
Western Illinois finished 10-21 overall last season. Despite the below .500 record, the Leathernecks made history in the Summit League Tournament, becoming the first eight seed to win a game. The program reached the semifinals for the first time since 2013.
The Leathernecks ranked No. 16 in the country for 3-point field goal percentage last season. They have made a 3-pointer in 132 straight games and converted at least six in 27 games.
Indianapolis native and junior guard Kobe Webster will look to lead the offense once again. Webster earned All-Summit League Second Team honors after averaging 17 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
After months of preparation, watching film, team pictures and media sessions, the season is here.
After a secret scrimmage against Marquette and a public one against Gannon, the next time IU takes the floor, it’s for real. It’s been a long offseason, but Miller looks forward to what’s to come.
“I think as we prepared for the season, as we prepared for this team, there has been very few surprises,” Miller said. “If there have been surprises, they've been on the positive. I'm confident though in this group and in our plan that we're 100% locked in.”
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