Friday, October 30, 2009

A more pleasant subject

While I continue to lament the symbolic end of football season, the good news is there are only five days until the men's basketball team begins its season.

The first game is Wednesday: an exhibition against Grace College. Ironically, Grace is in Winona Lake, about an 45 minutes west of Fort Wayne. Unfortunately, that game, as well as the other exhibition against St. Joseph's College of Indiana will be nothing more than lay-ups.

I do not expect to learn much about this team until later in the month, when the Hoosiers head to Puerto Rico for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip Off. The Hoosiers take on Ole Miss Nov. 19 in the first round of the tournament.

The Rebels were 16-15 last year, after suffering several injuries. This year, the team is expected to be much better and is picked to finish second in the SEC West division. This game will be an important measuring stick for the development of IU's now veteran sophomores and junior college transfers, as well as its heralded recruiting class.

The big test before the conference season begins will come in early December. Three games in two weeks: versus Maryland in Bloomington, versus Pittsburgh in New York, and versus Kentucky in Bloomington.

The Maryland game will be on ESPN2 as part of the ACC-Big Ten challenge. The Pitt game is on ESPN as part of the Jimmy V Classic and the UK game is a rivalry game on CBS. All three are national TV games, all three against top-tier programs. I'll find out how good they are after these three games. An upset of any of these teams would be a big step forward.

Big Ten play begins New Year's Eve and that road will be anything but smooth.

After I saw the pre-season AP and coaches' polls, I was surprised to find six Big Ten teams in the AP and five in the coaches' poll. And Michigan State and Purdue were both ranked in the top 10. If the voters are correct, this could be one of the toughest Big Ten seasons ever.

That doesn't lend a whole lot of confidence in the Hoosiers rebounding for a 20-win season this year. But I still think the team could finish better than .500 and possible get into the NIT. If they get a few breaks and the freshmen play better than expected, who knows, the Hoosiers could be dancing in March.

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