Indiana basketball is not in the same place as it was a year ago. Of this, we can be very sure. Beyond that, it is very difficult to determine just what to make of IU. How much will the on-floor product change as a result of a coaching change? How different will the team look having sent three players to the NBA? These are the questions that can only be answered once the season starts, but before we look to the upcoming season, let’s take a quick step back to remember how we got here.
Last Season: Where the only consistency is inconsistency
On November 11th, 2016 (Hawaii time), #11 Indiana took down #3 Kansas. James Blackmon Jr. led the Hoosiers to an overtime win over the Jayhawks, with heavy contributions from OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant. Eleven days later, Indiana proved unable to defeat Fort Wayne (formerly known as IPFW) in Fort Wayne. Eight days after that, Indiana would knock off another #3, this time UNC in Assembly Hall. It would be the last time that season Indiana would defeat a ranked team.
Conference play arrived, and with it, a mediocre set of mixed results. Blow out Illinois. Get blown out by Michigan. Triple overtime to defeat Penn State, followed by 5 straight losses. And at the end of it all, a berth in the NIT that caused so many unnecessary hassles among fanbase and athletic department that most were relieved to see it end.
And then Tom Crean got fired.
What Happens Next
To replace Crean, Archie Miller (brother of Arizona coach Sean) was hired away from Dayton. Though year 1 expectations will be tempered, the mandate for Miller is clear: just making the Sweet 16 is not good enough.
Indiana’s roster is a bit of a mish-mash, with Robert Johnson, Juwan Morgan, and Collin Hartman likely taking on leadership roles. De’Ron Davis almost certainly slots into the position vacated by Thomas Bryant, and though Indiana is not short on options for filling OG Anunoby’s shoes, it is unclear right now who the heir apparent to “most dynamic player on the team” will be. While a rotation will certainly develop as the season goes on, expect at least a little bit of uncertainty for the first month or so, as Indiana settles on a lineup that will carry the Hoosiers into the Big Ten schedule. A number of players could make reasonable claims to a spot in the starting five, and it will be interesting to see exactly what direction Coach Miller ends up taking with regards to who plays where and when.
Long story short, this year is going to be a bit of rough sailing for the Hoosiers. While much of the non-con is easily winnable, a couple of big tests await, and should give some idea of what Indiana is capable of come conference play. The Hoosiers are fortunate that many of the key conference games will come on the floor at Assembly Hall, but how they play away from home will decide if Indiana can possibly squeak back into the NCAA tournament, or if that sort of progress is still a year away. Expect a middle of the pack finish for the 2017-18 Hoosiers, but don’t be surprised if they end up in the lower-mid pack instead.