Seven months ago, the IU men’s basketball season came to an abrupt end. Its win over Nebraska on March 11 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament was the last game that team would play together.
Head coach Archie Miller said they weren’t really focused on the threat of the coronavirus before that game during media day Tuesday. They were worried about advancing in the Big Ten Tournament, and hopefully securing a place in the NCAA Tournament.
But then the NCAA canceled all tournaments and spring sports March 12.
Miller said the bus ride back to Bloomington that day was somber. The team had hopes of traveling to the opening round of the NCAA Tournament the next week, but instead they all returned home.
Sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said he and his teammates were devastated when they found out the season was canceled. Redshirt senior center Joey Brunk said he was in disbelief and couldn’t believe how quickly everything changed.
The team got together one last time before they all returned home to talk about the season and what then-seniors Devonte Green and De’Ron Davis meant to the program.
“That’s sort of how it ended,” Miller said.
But now what so abruptly came to an end in March has a start date again. The team is set to begin practices Wednesday, and the NCAA announced the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.
The 2020-21 basketball season comes with many challenges. Miller said the team will have to get started from day one because they won’t have preseason or nonconference opportunities.
Along with those challenges also comes the uncertainty of the season.
So far, the only game on the schedule is at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 30 against Providence College in the Maui Invitational, which has since been moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Miller said it’s been difficult to prepare when so much is out of his control.
“How do you plan when you don’t know?” Miller said. “That’s the million-dollar question.”
But Miller said if they have that game to start off the season Nov. 25 set in stone, then that’s what he’s preparing the team for.
Jackson-Davis said the only thing the Hoosiers can do is stay prepared and hope for the best amid the uncertainty of this season.
“With the season coming, I think everyone’s kind of in the dark about what’s happening, so we just gotta play it one game at a time,” Jackson-Davis said.
Jackson-Davis said the team cannot take anything for granted and has to play with a chip on its shoulder. Sophomore guard Armaan Franklin said he is trying to embrace every opportunity, no matter how unorthodox.
Jackson-Davis said the gym was open last season for players to shoot around Saturdays, but it was common for people to not show up. But this season, he said it’s weird if they aren’t in the gym on a Saturday.
“It’s just a different vibe this year,” he said. “Everyone’s ready to go, especially with an unfinished season last year.”
Not only is the team playing for themselves, but they’re playing for Green and Davis, who didn’t get to finish out their senior seasons.
“Those guys are like my brothers,” senior guard Al Durham said. “If anything, I can go out and play my hardest and make sure I do my best for those guys that didn’t get to finish their season.”
Miller said the number one thing the team has to do this year to be successful is cut down on turnovers — after averaging just more than 12 per game last season.
But turnovers aren't the only key to success this year. To start and finish out this season, Miller said the Hoosiers must do everything as carefully as possible in regards to COVID-19 safety protocols.
“If you want to represent Indiana this year on the court, if you want to be a part of college basketball, we’re going to have to do things off the floor probably more importantly than on the floor if we want to have a season,” Miller said.
That drive to get back on the court and get back to winning after their unfinished season will push the Hoosiers to be both accountable on and off the floor this season, no matter how uncertain the future looks.
“I feel like everyone’s holding everyone accountable for what they’re doing,” junior guard Rob Phinisee said. “Everyone’s working hard. Everyone just wants to win.”
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