In the state of Indiana, there are only two seasons that actually matter: corn season and basketball season. Last I checked, corn season ended in September.
In just under a month, Indiana men’s basketball will begin one of its most anticipated campaigns of the last decade. Head coach Mike Woodson has breathed life into a program running on fumes. The Big Ten’s media poll recently tapped the Hoosiers as preseason conference champions and named senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis the preseason conference player of the year.
But Big Ten schools aren’t the only ones in Indiana’s way. Let’s walk through the non-conference gauntlet the Hoosiers will need to navigate to meet their lofty expectations.
It looks brutal — because it is — but don’t worry. This is Indiana men’s basketball. Since when have unmet expectations ever been an issue?
University of North Carolina on Nov. 30
Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall will be absolutely rocking for this game. North Carolina players will be jeered. Referees will be borderline threatened. The vocabulary of young children in attendance will expand dramatically.
The Tar Heels outperformed expectations last season under first-year head coach Hubert Davis, nearly winning the NCAA championship. Then-sophomore forward Armando Bacot averaged 16 points and an absurd 13 rebounds and probably could be playing in the National Basketball Association this year.
I have no doubt ESPN will bill this game as a matchup of college basketball powerhouses. I’m sure its commentators will remind you of this at least 17 times throughout the broadcast. Indiana must hold up its end of the bargain.
University of Arizona in Las Vegas on Dec. 10
This neutral-site contest is a battle of continuity versus novelty. Indiana’s starting five should be mainly unchanged from last season, while Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd brings in two international players and five transfers to replace three NBA draftees.
Woodson and Lloyd exceeded expectations as first-year head coaches last season, but their clash in Las Vegas poses a great deal of uncertainty.
What does the Wildcats’ frontcourt look like with three 7-footers on the roster? How will the Hoosiers perform far away from Assembly Hall? Will the Indiana Daily Student fund my flight to Sin City and any subsequent debauchery therein?
So many questions, and I think we are all eager to learn the answers.
University of Kansas on Dec. 17
I would be floored if Indiana won this road game.
I know, I know — how dare I favor last year’s NCAA champions against a team that lost to Saint Mary’s College by 29 points in the tournament’s first round?
That said, Kansas returns only two starters from last year’s national championship team in junior guard Dajuan Harris Jr. and junior forward Jalen Wilson. There’s a chance the Jayhawks will be vulnerable while they are still figuring out their ideal rotation.
Nevertheless, history is not on Indiana’s side. In 19 seasons at Kansas, head coach Bill Self is 292-16 in home games for a success rate of 94.8%. According to U.S. News & World Report, Kansas’ acceptance rate is 92%.
It is literally easier for Self to win home basketball games than it is for the average high school senior to be accepted into Kansas. I didn’t know that was even possible.
Other teams not called North Carolina, Arizona or Kansas
Believe it or not, becoming intimately familiar with Bethune-Cookman University’s two-deep roster or the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s defensive scheme is slightly above my pay grade. Nevertheless, there are a few highlights worth pointing out.
Indiana officially opens its season Nov. 7 at home against Morehead State University. The Hoosiers might start slow, but they should have plenty of time to find their footing.
In lieu of the Crossroads Classic, Indiana will head to Indianapolis Nov. 20 to take on Miami University (OH) in a game that probably won’t be as close as Bloomberg’s business school rankings might suggest.
The Dec. 23 matchup against Kennesaw State University isn’t terribly noteworthy outside the fact that Indiana President Pamela Whitten previously served as Kennesaw State’s president. The game itself may be a snoozer, but I can only assume that week’s “Written by Whitten” newsletter will be absolutely electric.