Coach: Tom Crean (9th year)
2015-16 Record: 27-8 (15-3)
Key Departures: Max Bielfieldt, Nick Zeisloft, Ryan Burton, Jackson Tharp (graduation), Kevin Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams (NBA), Harrison Niego (transfer)
Key Additions: Josh Newkirk (coming off transfer year), Johnny Jager (transfer; sitting out 2016-17 season), Zach McRoberts (walk-on, coming off transfer year), Freddie McSwain Jr. (JUCO transfer), Curtis Jones, Devonte Green, De’Ron Davis, Grant Gelon (freshmen)
Expected Starters: Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, James Blackmon, Robert Johnson, Josh Newkirk/Juwan Morgan
Key Bench Contributors: Newkirk/Morgan, De’Ron Davis, Freddie McSwain Jr., Grant Gelon
Really, the "expected" starters after Bryant, Anunoby and Blackmon are still unknown, because Tom Crean substitution patterns are still in flux for the first couple months, and pretty much anyone who doesn’t start could become a key bench contributor if they’re eligible to see the floor this year (other than maybe Tim Priller, but you never know).
There are still a couple of really bad teams on Indiana’s non-con (seriously, Fred Glass, can we stop scheduling outside the top 300?), but there are three (or four, if you count Butler) big name teams on the schedule, and victory isn’t assured against any of them: Kansas in Hawaii to open the season, UNC in Bloomington for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and Louisville in Indianapolis on New Year’s Eve. Take one of those, and you’re in a good place going forward; take two or all three and you could be looking at a contender come March.
There are two stretches of Big Ten play that will determine whether or not Indiana will be repeating as conference champions. The first is January 3rd through 10th, with Wisconsin in Assembly Hall and a trip to College Park for the lone IU-Maryland game bookending a potential trap game against Illinois. Anything less than 2-1 in that stretch probably dooms Indiana before we even reach mid-January. The second also kicks off with Wisconsin, but in Madison, February 5th, and includes Purdue in Assembly Hall on the 9th and Michigan on the 12th. Again, 2-1 or better is the key to repeating. Surviving those stretches and grabbing one of Michigan State at IU and the other Purdue game would likely leave IU at 15-3 again, and in decent position to take advantage of any slip ups by the other teams in contention.
A large amount of Indiana’s success will be on how quickly the team gels. The game against Kansas will almost certainly be baptism by fire, and if things go wrong early, Indiana will be lucky to find itself on a midline NCAA seed. On the other hand, if everyone figures out where they fit and all the major contributors stay healthy (particularly Juwan Morgan, James Blackmon, and OG Anunoby), a deep tournament run is within the realm of possibility. Look for Indiana to contend, but probably ultimately fall a game or two short, for the Big Ten championship.
What OTE Thinks
Obviously, I am the insane outlier in our staff predictions, but other than that, there’s a general consensus that leads to a decent NCAA seed if things go well. And considering I filled in my prediction a while ago, even I would be surprised if we pulled off 17-1 in conference play (but hope springs eternal).