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2016-17 Indiana Basketball preview: non-conference opponent edition

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The Hoosiers will face Kansas, UNC, Butler, and Louisville in notable early season games.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kansas vs Villanova Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been so excited and focused on football season this fall, that it’s hard to believe that basketball season starts in less than a month. But yet, here were are, a day before the renovated Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall reopens, only a week and a half from Hoosier Hysteria, and 29 days until the season gets underway in Honolulu.

As a result, it’s time to start doing opponent previews for Indiana basketball. These won’t be as in-depth as the football ones were, due to time and space constraints, but for the next four weeks I am going to start scoping out IU’s opponents for the coming basketball season. This week, I’ll write about the four biggest non-conference opponents, and the next three weeks will be Big Ten opponents.

Let’s do this.

Kansas

Where: Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, HI

When: November 11, 9pm ET, ESPN

Key Newcomer: Josh Jackson

Key Departures: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden

“November in Hawaii” may bring back nightmares for IU fans from last season’s Maui Invitational, but the Hoosiers will return to the Islands to open their season against last year’s Maui champions. Of course, Indiana finished in 6th and never got to play KU in last season’s tourney, so this Armed Forces Classic matchup on Veterans Day will be the first time that these two blue-bloods have met since 1995. In that game, Roy Williams’s Jayhawks outpaced Bob Knight’s Hoosiers, 91-83, in a game that was technically a neutral site but likely filled with KU fans, as it was played in Kansas City.

This year’s matchup will likely be a battle of opposing stengths, as both KU’s backcourt and IU’s frontcourt are receiving preseason accolades. The Jayhawks are led by senior point guard Frank Mason and junior shooting guard Devonte Graham. Mason can be a dynamic playmaker, while Graham made 44% of his three-point shots last year. In addition, the Jayhawks have added swingman freshman Josh Jackson, who played at the shady and controversial Prolific Prep, but could be the #1 pick in the NBA draft next season if all goes well in Lawrence. However, after approximately 15 seasons as KU’s starting center, Perry Ellis has graduated. Carlton Bragg is expected to fill his role.

Under Bill Self, Kansas has won the last 12 Big 12 titles, which is an unbelievable stat, especially considering it’s a competitive conference that always gets over half its teams into the tournament each year. However, the Jayhawks often lose a non-conference game early in the season - last year it was Michigan State, and the year before was Kentucky. Could IU get the best of them before the team rounds into form come Big 12 play? A win in Honolulu for the Hoosiers would exorcise the demons of last year’s Maui debacle, and start the season with a quality victory.

North Carolina

Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, IN

When: November 30, 9pm ET, ESPN

Key Newcomer: Tony Bradley

Key Departures: Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson

In this year’s ACC/B1G Challenge, Indiana will be facing a different UNC team that ended the Hoosiers’ season last March in Philly. Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, two stars of that team, have graduated and moved on. But this won’t be total attrition, as Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel James will all return for the Heels. UNC will be a large team this year, as they bring in one of the top big men prospects in Tony Bradley. Bradley is already getting tons of praise, and should be a big part of Roy Williams’ game plans this season.

UNC came devastatingly close to winning a title last year, as they lost to Villanova on Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater in the best NCAA title game I can remember. A heartbreaking loss like this can be tough to rebound from, even seven months later. As for Indiana, I’m sure that they haven’t forgotten the Sweet 16 loss either. The Hoosiers basically dared UNC - a team ranked 259th in three-point percentage last year - to shoot from deep. Of course, the Heels went 11 for 20 from behind the arc and cruised to a 101-86 victory in a game that never was really competitive from the start.

I was in Assembly Hall the last time these two met in the ACC/B1G Challenge - top-ranked IU crushed a young UNC team in that game. This year’s Heels won’t be as inexperienced as that crew was, and they’ll most likely keep this one a lot more competitive. But this will be IU’s first big home game of the year, and with a 9pm start on national TV, the student section should be in full force. This should be a great atmosphere.

Butler

Where: Crossroads Classic, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN

When: December 17, 5pm ET, BTN

Key Newcomer: Joey Brunk

Key Departures: Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones

There’s been some hand-wringing over the years about the Crossroads Classic, but here’s the thing - this one-day event often features four very good basketball teams, and is a great showcase for basketball in Indiana. That being said, it’s unfortunate that this game is on BTN instead of being nationally televised, especially when UCLA, OSU, Kentucky, and UNC will play in the CBS Sports Classic the same weekend.

Butler coach Chris Holtmann has settled nicely into his role, and while he may never have the name recognition of Brad Stevens, he has gotten the Bulldogs to the second round of the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. And he’s done this against tougher opponents than Stevens had to face, making Butler’s transition into the Big East relatively seamless. Holtmann also scored a key local recruiting victory last season, as Southport big man Joey Brunk will join the Bulldogs this season. Forwards Kelan Martin and Andrew Chrabascz look to lead the way for Butler, while Roosevelt Jones has graduated and presumably is dominating Rec Leagues all over the area.

IU has played two memorable Crossroads Classic games with Butler. The first was an OT loss thanks to an Alex Barlow last-second runner in 2012, while two years ago, the Hoosier offense pulled away late in the second half to seal a hard-fought victory. Plus, state bragging rights are always fun to have, and that alone should motivate the Hoosiers in this game.

Louisville

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN

When: December 31, 12:30pm ET, CBS

Key Newcomer: VJ King

Key Departures: Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, Chinanu Onuaku

Forget this game for a minute - I just want to talk about how shameful last season was for Louisville.

On February 6, only a month before the end of the regular season, Louisville President James Ramsey, along with AD Tom Jurich and head coach Rick Pitino, held a press conference in which they announced that they were self-imposing a postseason ban on the team. The ban stemmed from allegations that Louisville had let strippers into the basketball dorms, well before any current Louisville player attended the school.

As a result, the school of course punished the current Louisville players.

Watching three well-paid administrators and coaches in Ramsey, Jurich, and Pitino hand down this cowardly decision to punish innocent unpaid athletes was sickening, and was the perfect example of the hypocrisy and inequality that has run rampant throughout the NCAA. Louisville’s team included two players - Trey Lewis and Damion Lee - who were grad transfers and had played at schools that had not had a chance to experience the NCAA Tournament. This was their one shot at postseason play. And as a result of administrative irresponsibility not under their watch, Lee and Lewis didn’t get a chance to play in the postseason. Tom Jurich has been a great AD for the most part at Louisville, elevating the school’s profile from the Conference USA doldrums to the ACC while similar schools like Cincinnati and Memphis have to fight for a Power 5 bid. But this decision has permanently tarnished his reputation in my mind. As for James Ramsey, who had been the subject of several other shady scandals in recent years at Louisville, this postseason ban just accelerated his resignation from the university, where I’m sure he received an excellent golden parachute upon leaving.

In short, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when your school’s most moral coach is Bobby Petrino.

As for this game itself, it’s going to be a blast. This will be on New Years’ Eve in Indy with two great fanbases, and should be a great precursor to College Football Playoff semifinals and NYE parties. It’s also the first of three games against the Cardinals, as they will play home-and-home contests over the next two years. Many Louisville fans still have bad memories of Crean from his Marquette days, so the crowd should be fired up. If Louisville knocks off Kentucky a few days before this, then their confidence will be soaring before game time.

Next week: Part 1 of the Big Ten, including Illinois, Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Rutger.