HOOSIER SCOOP SAGE TAKE OF THE DAY, Oct. 23, 2012
Today’s question: How can the IU men’s basketball team beat the expectations game (and keep beating the opposition)?
Today’s answer: Focus on winning the Big Ten.
Exceeding expectations is such a great recipe for enjoyment, as evidenced by Indiana’s 2011-12 men’s basketball season. IU fans were hoping for a winning season after three straight 20-loss campaigns engendered by ramifications from the Kelvin Sampson fiasco. They hoped they might see their Hoosiers even challenge for the Big Ten’s upper division. What they got was Indiana’s full-fledged, roaring re-emergence among the nation’s elite programs.
That reality truly dawned last December, with what IU fans viewed as nothing less than the forces of truth and light vanquishing minions of The Evil Empire in the most electrifying manner conceivable, via a moment that will stand the test of time in the annals of college basketball lore.
(The ESPY-winner for Play of the Year, all sports included.)
It was heady, joyous stuff for Hoosier partisans. And with most of the primary IU players returning, augmented by a talented and nicely complementary freshman class, expectations are now right through a roof. Even one as high up as Assembly Hall’s.
So it’s a very different challenge for IU this season — how to fashion a new team of admittedly capable parts and get the chemistry right in order to meet expectations of a triumphal march through March. Indiana is already ranked No. 1 in the preseason coaches’ poll, and dreams of a Final Four and a sixth NCAA championship banner are definitely dancing in Hoosier heads.
Given the non-conference schedule has more than its share of cupcakes, the hype isn’t likely to dissipate very much anytime soon. But the Big Ten has three of the top five teams in that preseason coaches’ poll and is clearly the nation’s toughest conference. So such lofty rankings might not survive once league teams start knocking each other off after Christmas.
But of all the goals Indiana can rightfully pursue this season, focusing primarily on winning the Big Ten would serve it well. Once the demanding weeks of January and February ensue, it would behoove the Hoosiers to stay mindful of the task at-hand. The most important game is always this one. Then the next one. Step by step. That’s the only way league titles get won.
Indiana has one of those traditional fan bases that actually cares about conference titles, and the Hoosiers haven’t won one in a dozen years. That seems reason enough to focus on that particular goal.
But here is the main reason: whomever wins this season’s Big Ten regular-season title will almost certainly earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and be rewarded starting close to home in the Midwest region. And the 2013 Midwest regional site is Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Winning the Big Ten, in other words, would set the Hoosiers up perfectly to make that run in March they and their fans are hoping to see. Honing in on that goal would also keep the hype at bay a bit, focusing the team on each successive game.
Coach Tom Crean can, of course, feel free to punt the above advice. But there it is, freely given, for his (and your) perusal.