After two exhibition games, Indiana will take the court for its first regular season contest of the 2023-24 campaign tonight against Florida Gulf Coast.
The Eagles aren’t the hardest team Indiana will see in a non-conference slate that features defending champion UConn, but they also present more of a challenge than the typical early season buy game. They’re an experienced group settling into Pat Chambers’ systems as he enters his second season as head coach.
That said, Indiana will be the more talented team and will be heavy favorites entering the game. .
This is a step up in talent and stakes from Indiana’s two exhibition games this season, but there’s still a limit to how much we can take away from today’s matchup. The bench will probably play more than usual and the starters will not be tested like they will once the Big Ten season starts.
That said, here’s what we can learn from tonight’s regular season opener from the Hoosiers:
The scariest thing about this FGCU team that’s coming to Bloomington is their willingness to shoot the three. The Eagles finished 13th nationally last season in percentage of offense from beyond the 3-point line, per Kenpom.
On the other end of the court, the Eagles were one of the worst at defending the three, with opponents attempting over 41.2% of their overall field goal attempts from beyond the arc. In that category, FGCU was 302nd nationally.
Indiana’s three point defense was not its strong point last year, but with the added length and athleticism to the roster, it’s reasonable to expect some improvement. Similarly, Indiana struggled to get 3-pointers up on offense despite hitting them at a good rate last year.
This opening game against FGCU will be a good test on both ends, as Indiana is likely to see a good number of threes from the Eagles offense. While the Hoosiers should be able to score inside with ease, it’ll also be a good opportunity to get into the habit of kicking out to its open shooters when the defense collapses on them.
Emphasizing the need for more perimeter offense may seem like a broken record at this point, but Indiana finally has a roster that may be able to change the narrative about a program that’s primarily scored in the paint since firing Tom Crean in 2017.
As stated above, we will probably see more bench minutes and a deeper rotation against FGCU than we will for the rest of the season. That doesn’t mean that the order of the rotation or distribution of minutes isn’t relevant though.
Behind the starting lineup, which should be the same as it was in the two exhibition games, there are a lot of questions about how this rotation could look this year. Kaleb Banks, C.J. Gunn, Anthony Walker, Payton Sparks (if healthy), and Gabe Cupps will give Mike Woodson and company some interesting decisions to make when the starters need a rest.
Has Cupps earned enough trust to be the lone backup point guard, or will Trey Galloway slide over to that role at points? Will Banks and Walker play together, or will Woodson rotate depending on matchups and needs? How many points can C.J. Gunn add off the bench?
These questions are likely to linger well into the conference season, but I think the rotation we see in this first meaningful game will give us an idea as to where Woodson’s head is at as the competition ramps up.
Nobody knows exactly if and when things will start to come together for Indiana with so many new players this year, but the energy level tonight against FGCU could help us get a timeline.
As of now, KenPom projects Indiana to lose five games by two points or fewer. If the Hoosiers can take care of business and coast to victory against the less talented teams on the schedule, we should see those projections start to change for the better.
If Indiana can demonstrate that it’s ready to compete at a high level early on, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them enter the national conversation early on. Guys like Mackenzie Mgbako and Kel’el Ware can really elevate this Indiana offense beyond what it’s been in nearly a decade.
On the other hand, If Indiana looks like a team that’s confused about its own identity, we might be looking at a longer season.
No matter what, we won’t be looking at the finished product tomorrow, but it’ll be interesting to see of this team is moving and playing like it knows just how good it can be. To me, that means playing hard on defense, cutting and screening with conviction, and taking the open shots that come their way, even if they aren’t going down.