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Big Ten releases 2016-17 Indiana basketball conference opponents

The path to a title defense has been laid out for Tom Crean's team -- and it's a manageable one.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It's not quite the gift Indiana Basketball received from the league office in 2015-16, but the curtain has been pulled on the defending champs' conference opponents for the 2016-17. And it's fairly manageable.

The biggest highlight of the schedule will assuredly be the return of the the home & road Purdue series, and thus possibly giving the Boilers a chance to actually beat Indiana in a televised sport for the first time since February 2015. Indiana will also get series with Northwestern (fine), Penn State (probably will lose on the road somehow), Michigan (lol), and Wisconsin (Indiana doesn't win in kohl).

But possibly the biggest advantage on this Indiana schedule? The Hoosiers will only get Michigan State once in 2016-17, at home, in Assembly Hall. That's big for two teams that should once again be near the top of the conference next season. Illinois, Nebraska, and Rutgers will be the other home single plays -- teams Indiana should beat regardless of locale next year, anyway.

The single-play away trips are manageable -- but won't be easy. Iowa and Maryland are expected to drop off quite a bit after battling with Michigan State and Indiana at the top of the conference last season, but will still have star-centric teams with Peter Jok and Melo Trimble carrying huge scoring loads respectively. Ohio State has the talent to be the most impressive team of the lot, but should still be somewhere near the middle of the conference. Minnesota has The Barn, and The Barn is weird.

With that schedule, can Indiana repeat? Sure! It's certainly manageable with Indiana's returning talent and experience, but they'll have to hold serve at home. Running the table at home again would allow for losses at Wisconsin and Purdue -- and two more out of the lot of Penn State, Michigan, Iowa, Maryland, and Ohio State. Those five road games might be what decides Indiana's fate in the 2016-17 series. Take three, beat Sparty at home, and avoid any bad stumbles? You've got a repeat. Two and a win over Sparty might be enough for a share, too. Anything more and Indiana likely would be a stretch to take the title.