Back in November, Indiana had two of the best wins in the country - victories over Kansas and UNC, who were both ranked #3 at the time.
A month later, what has Indiana added to its resume? Nothing, besides a few sub-300 KenPom victories. In addition, the Hoosiers are now staring down the barrel of 0-1 in the Big Ten - not a huge detriment on paper, but after a home loss to a team that was predicted to be a conference bottom-feeder, conference contention seems unlikely.
This has been a frustrating December for IU basketball, especially because we know what this team is capable of.
I often get more upset after IU losses in any sport than others who blog for this site. It would be nice maybe, for a change, to say “this loss is fine” or “it’s early in the season so I’m not concerned,” but that’s not how I’m wired. Maybe it’s my East Coast sensibility, I don’t know. But honestly, I don’t see a lot of positives from a home loss to Nebraska, a team that lost to Gardner-Webb in nonconference play and just lost Anton Gill for the season before this game was played. This was a Nebraska team Indiana beat twice last season, including by 16 points at home.
It’s inexcusable for this loss to happen, and the blame lies in a lot of places.
The one I want to focus on is Indiana’s own nonconference schedule.
The Hoosiers got a nice home win over UNC. Great! But they’re obligated to schedule that one because of the ACC/B1G Challenge. They lost to Butler? Well that’s unfortunate, but it’s also a Crossroads Classic game - an event that IU is locked into until 2019. Louisville was a nice schedule boost, but the Hoosiers used to play both them and UK yearly, not just one or the other. And while the Kansas game was a fun one-off event in Hawaii for a good cause, they don’t look to be on the schedule again anytime soon.
Other than the four main noncon opponents (Kansas, UNC, Butler, Louisville), the average KenPom rating for Indiana’s nine other non-conference foes was 279. Take Fort Wayne out of the equation and the number drops to 302. There are 351 teams in Division 1 college basketball, total.
For teams like Liberty and Mississippi Valley State and Houston Baptist, you can’t blame them for coming into a legendary facility, taking their losses, and collecting the paycheck. But for a team like Indiana, these wins accomplish nothing. Why not play teams from nearby mid-major conferences instead, and get reps against teams with outside shots of making at least the NIT?
Coming into last night’s game, Nebraska was ranked #96 in KenPom. Other opponents of that caliber that IU could’ve scheduled include Valpo, Oakland, and... well... uhh... Fort Wayne.
Even that loss was in Fort Wayne, so there’s a bit of an excuse that isn’t there for Nebraska. Of course, last night’s lost to the Huskers was the first for the Hoosiers on their homecourt in 21 months.
It’s not like there would be an issue with getting at least decent teams on the schedule, either. Look at what other #elite programs face off against early on in the season. The sixth-best team that Kentucky faced in its noncon schedule was Arizona State, ranked #105 currently in KenPom. For Purdue, it was Georgia State (#142). For Wisconsin? Oklahoma (#57), who made a Final Four last year.
Indiana’s sixth-best noncon opponent? Liberty, ranked #272.
The problem is, there’s no incentive for Indiana to schedule games against these types of opponents. As long as the Hoosiers do decently enough in the B1G, and get a couple good noncon wins, the Selection Committee won’t keep a big attendance draw like Indiana out of the NCAA Tourney. And because Assembly Hall is such a legendary venue, as well as Indiana’s fanbase being so huge, the team will fill the arena to its new capacity of 17,222 fans for every home game. So while I get that from a business standpoint, it’s not conducive to schedule better opponents if fans will show up anyway, it’s hurting the Hoosiers when the opponent quality has depreciated, even from just a decade ago.
Check the 04-05 sked: Indiana State, W. Ill., UNC, at UConn, ND, vs. UK, at Mizzou, Charlotte, vs. Ball St., Oral Roberts and Furman. #IUBB— Ken Bikoff (@kbikoff) December 10, 2016
There’s a lot of time left in the season, and a win over Louisville in Indy on Saturday would wash away some of the negative feelings about last night. But if you want to be frustrated about the Nebraska loss, I don’t blame you - I just wish there had been more opportunities to prepare for it.