The 2012-13 college basketball season was a memorable one for the Indiana program.
Tom Crean had his Hoosiers among the nation’s best as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and they were the class of the Big Ten during the regular season. Even a disappointing loss in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse can’t diminish how important the likes of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo were to turning that program around so quickly.
The final-second victory at Michigan over National Player of the Year Trey Burke and the Wolverines to clinch the outright Big Ten title was a culmination of the entire rebuilding process that Crean undertook when he accepted the job in Bloomington.
However, Zeller and Oladipo are no longer around, and Indiana appears to be returning to the middle of the pack in the loaded Big Ten in 2013-14.
The Hoosiers sit at a respectable 8-3 through 11 contests, but they have lost to every team of note on the schedule except for Washington (and denoting the Huskies as a team of note is still up for debate). A heartbreaking loss to Connecticut, a blowout defeat at the hands of Syracuse and a loss to Notre Dame have soured Indiana fans’ opinion of this team in the early going.
The Big Ten is known for its suffocating defenses, which could pose a problem for a Hoosiers offense that has been crippling in nonconference play. According to Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency ratings, Indiana currently ranks 94th in the nation.
It’s only fair to expect offensive production to fall even further if that’s where it is through 11 contests that included tilts with Chicago State, Samford, Stony Brook, North Florida and Evansville.
Will Indiana make the Sweet 16 this season?
For context, fellow Big Ten teams Ohio State (No. 1), Michigan State (No. 8), Wisconsin (No. 12) and Illinois (No. 30) litter the top 30 rankings in Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. Those defenses will be licking their collective lips when they see this Indiana offense on the schedule.
The good news for Indiana fans is the main contributors on this team are very young. Yogi Ferrell is only a sophomore and is leading the squad with 16.1 points a night, while freshman Noah Vonleh has been one of the most impressive first-year players in the nation (12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds in only 22.9 minutes a night).
Furthermore, the Hoosiers are quite formidable on defense themselves. They rank 16th in Pomeroy’s defensive rankings and will win some games against the bottom of the Big Ten based on that alone.
At this point, it is hard to put Indiana in the top five of the conference. The Hoosiers are struggling offensively and have lost against the quality opponents they have faced. Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin are certainly ahead of them right now, and the argument can be made Indiana is behind Michigan (who nearly knocked off No. 1 Arizona), Iowa and even Illinois (who looked formidable in defeat against Oregon).
CBS Sports' Gary Parrish ranked Indiana fifth in the Big Ten before the season started, behind the Spartans, Buckeyes, Wolverines and Badgers. Indiana hasn't distinguished itself from that list. However, Parrish does provide some positive projections:
But senior Will Sheehey, sophomore Yogi Ferrell and freshman Noah Vonleh will comprise a good enough core to keep Indiana relevant even if a third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 seems unlikely.
There is plenty of time for this young nucleus to develop before March, but there will be some growing pains along the way in conference play.
There already has been.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.