Monday, March 15, 2010

Post-season considerations

After finishing 10-21, there aren't too many superlatives to shower on the Hoosiers this year. But I looked at the schedule again after the release of the NCAA and NIT tournament brackets, and I decided the Hoosiers may have, at least in part, been a victim of their quality opponents.

Twelve of the 31 games on the Hoosiers' schedule this season came against NCAA tournament teams: Maryland, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Ohio State (2), Minnesota (2), Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), and Michigan State. Another six games were against NIT teams: Mississippi, Illinois (2), and Northwestern (3). That's 18 out of 31 games, or 58 percent, against the best 97 teams in the country.

Among those playoff teams were one of the favorites to win the national championship: SEC champion Kentucky; the ACC regular season co-champion, Maryland: and two games against the Big Ten regular season and tournament champ: Ohio State.

I know it's hard to compare college basketball and pro football, but all the sudden the Hoosiers' difficulties this year seem a little more understandable. Whenever the new NFL schedule is released, a huge emphasis is placed on the number of playoff teams each fan's favorite club will face that year and is used to predict success. Given coach Tom Crean's extremely young and inexperienced team going into the season, could fans have expected a whole lot more than this year's results if I told you they would be playing more than half of their games against playoff teams?

If the Chicago Bears had to play two games against the NFC North division champ, the Minnesota Vikings, another two games against a Wild Card winner, the Green Bay Packers, as well as a game against the best team in the conference and NFL champion, the New Orleans Saints, and another Super Bowl favorite, the Indianapolis Colts, would you expect them to make the playoffs or have a winning record? If the Bears lost all six of those games, the margin of error to grab a post-season spot shrinks dramatically.

I firmly believe Indiana should include quality teams in its non-conference schedule because it can provide a valuable measuring stick for players and coaches. So I would not say the Hoosiers over-scheduled their team this year. But I definitely can't fault them too much for struggling. The team was not good enough to expect any easy wins and it was difficult to find many games where the Hoosiers had a fighting chance short of playing a perfect game.

The good news is in several cases the Hoosiers played well against the superior competition. They beat Pittsburgh in New York, by far the biggest win of the year, beat Minnesota in Bloomington, lost at the buzzer to Illinois on the road and lost by three to Purdue at home.

Unfortunately, Crean and his players have a long way to go. While it was painful at times, we did see some improvement over last year. Let's hope the program has taken another step forward at this time next year.

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