With IUFB season officially over, it's time to turn our full focus to IUBB. And if you decided to take a first look on Tuesday, you probably wouldn't mind going back to football season for a while. After falling down 10-0 early, the Hoosiers came back to lead 27-26, before completely falling apart in the second half. While this looked much, much worse than last season's NCAA tournament-ending loss, let me give you a few reasons to ease the worry that is probably setting in.
1. This is really, REALLY not last year's Hoosiers.
Last year, Indiana started 2 seniors, a junior, a sophomore, and a freshman most of the season. Of those 5, only the freshman has returned to this year's starting lineup (Yogi Ferrell). Joining him is the team's lone scholarship senior (Will Sheehey), a sophomore who has occasional flashes of competence (Jeremy Hollowell), and two talented freshmen (Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams). Coming off the bench, the Hoosiers bring a grad student (Evan Gordon), a redshirt sophomore coming off a knee injury (Austin Etherington), two sophomores who are on completely different ends of the "project" spectrum (Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin), four freshmen who occasionally see important minutes (Luke Fischer, Collin Hartman, Stanford Robinson, and Devin Davis), and the crew many Hoosier fans affectionately refer to as #benchmob (Jeff Howard, Taylor Wayer, Jonny Marlin, Joe Fagan, and Andrew Calomeris). This is a very young team that is still trying to figure out what it does well.
2. Syracuse is a really good team, especially at home.
There's a reason they're ranked in the top 5 in the country, as they proved against us. They're a well-coached team that plays spectacular defense, and they're not too shabby on offense either. They certainly have Final Four or better expectations, and if we want to have any hope of getting there ourselves, this is the kind of team we'll have to beat at some point. Early December doesn't have to be that time, but it always feels better when it is. Also, this wasn't a game in Assembly Hall. This wasn't even a neutral site game, like in the NCAAs. This was in the Carrier Dome, where Syracuse rarely loses. It would have taken an almost perfect game from IU to pull out the win, and that clearly didn't happen.
3. It's December.
This is the biggest key right now. A loss this early in the season is unlikely to keep a team out of the NCAAs if they are good enough the rest of the season. We're not even to conference play yet, so while it certainly hurts to not win them all, no one has made it the entire season since the '76 Hoosiers, so better to lose now and learn something from it than to lose in March and not be able to take anything positive away.
I'll be honest, if the Hoosiers we saw last night show up in March, they won't win a game. But we have way too much of the season left to write it off now. More than half of this team is brand new this year, so it makes sense that there will be some growing pains. Let them figure it out, and when they do, this will be a team to watch in March.