To start the season Indiana had some pretty mediocre fan expectations on what the final outcome of the season should be. As we have seen through the first 13 games however, is that the Hoosiers are much greater than originally expected. This undervaluing to start the year has made this team even more entertaining to watch because it feels like we’re playing house money. But exactly how wrong have we been to date? What should the expectations be going forward? Should the old expectations still apply or should the standard jump a year earlier than expected?
My own initial standard for a successful season was 19 wins and an NIT bid. I wanted to see a 10-3 record out of conference and a .500 season in conference. Obviously, IU is going to exceed those expectations barring some major injury and have already exceeded the non-conference schedule projections. To start the year I had penciled in losses at home to Kentucky, @ NC State and home to Butler, with some close calls in Notre Dame and Evansville. As we have seen, the Hoosiers won every single one of those games. I’m happy to be wrong.
The high end of pre-season benchmarks was 21 wins. I thought that would get the Hoosiers into the NCAA Tournament in March and give them a favorable opportunity to make some noise in their first round game as a Last Four In candidate. In fact, I wrote what I considered to be an incredibly optimistic article back in June that the Hoosiers would get a win in late March. Go back and read it now and the article seems condescending. Of course IU is going to be in the tournament and likely win their first game. Dan Dakich on Indy sports radio was even blasted for being a homer when he said at the beginning of the year that IU should win at least 23 games. That doesn't look so ridiculous now. So with all of the pre-season stuff out the window and 21 wins feeling like a letdown what should us as fans expect the Hoosiers to finish at?
Let’s take a look at Ken Pomeroy’s statistical projections and find out what the math people think will happen. The Hoosiers have already lost one game this season to Michigan State. They are underdogs in only three more games this season. IU is a three point dog at home tomorrow with Ohio State (no shame in that, best team in the country). They are projected to lose at Ohio State by ten and at Wisconsin by ten. So with 18 games to go, the Hoosiers are supposed to lose three. One home game against the best team in the country, one away game at that same team’s home court and at the hardest arena for an away team to win at in the last decade. IU is statistically favored to win everything else. So let’s assume that Indiana comes back to earth a bit. They lose all three of those games, drop a game or two at home and lose all of their road games. That’s a pretty big letdown at the halfway point, yes? That would finish the team with a 21-11 record. The Hoosiers at this point have pretty well won their way into a Tourney birth if they can play .500 ball from here on out. However, it is not recommended.
With the incredible pessimism out of the way what is the most reasonable projection? I think the three projected losses are accurate, although I could see Indiana knocking off Ohio State tomorrow (I swear to [insert deity of choice] if students rush the court….). So let’s go ahead and take those three losses. That leaves us a 15 game schedule of one non-conference cupcake (W), 6 away contests (PSU, Nebraska, Michigan, Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota) and 8 home games (Mich., Minn, Penn St., Iowa, Illini, NW, State, Boilers). That isn’t an overbearing schedule by any means. I think we can expect wins at Penn St., Nebraska and Iowa. And ask for two more out of Purdue, Michigan and Minn. That would be five of six on the road and at worst four of six. At home we should take them all but let’s put the bar at six of eight. With those expectations Indiana would finish at a record of 24-7. I think that is a good low bar. Indiana must jump 24-7 anything more is icing a season ahead of schedule. Anything less would be incredibly disappointing. I think the best and most reasonable expectations for the Hoosiers through the rest of the year is 24-7 with a convincing first round win in March. Anything over that win total or extra noise made in the tournament should have the Hoosier faithful confident in being set up for a potential National Championship run in 2012.