After a relatively easy nonconference schedule, the Big Ten season is here for Indiana basketball. The Hoosiers begin conference play and the defense of their regular-season crown on the road against Illinois on New Year's Eve.
Obviously, this team is much different than the one that captured last year's title, and based on what they've showed so far, it will be an uphill battle for the Hoosiers to repeat the success of a season ago.
But right now, every team's conference record is 0-0, and nothing is set in stone. The Hoosiers may be a long shot to win the Big Ten, but nonetheless, they still have a chance.
Here's what they must do in order to bring a second straight conference championship to Bloomington.
The stud freshman has faded against better competition.
Despite this, his stats are a tad misleading. Vonleh feasted on the cupcakes of IU's weak nonconference slate but didn't perform near as well against quality teams, with Syracuse being the exception.
Every night in the Big Ten, Vonleh is going to be challenged. The Hoosiers are depending on him to deliver the double-doubles he's shown he can manufacture.
The Hoosiers cannot afford for Vonleh to have many off nights if they have any intention of winning the Big Ten.
Yogi Ferrell is IU's only consistent outside shooter.
The Hoosiers are shooting an abysmal 31.5 percent from beyond the arc, worst in the Big Ten. They are a shadow of the team that connected on 40.3 percent of its attempts just a season ago.
Their inability to hit outside shots is changing how defenses game-plan. Opposing teams are more apt to sag off of Indiana shooters and pay more attention to Vonleh, who patrols the low block. Vonleh has been great down there, but as teams continue to give him more respect, his life is going to get tougher and tougher.
In order to keep the pressure off of Vonleh, the Hoosiers must be better from the three-point line. Do they have to be great? No, but they must make the opposition respect their outside shot. This will space out the floor and give Vonleh room to work.
If the Hoosiers don't improve, defenses will continue to pack it in, take Vonleh out of the game and force them to shoot from long range, which is obviously not a recipe for success.
IU has to be great at home.
Assembly Hall has been a sanctuary for this young Hoosier team. Indiana is undefeated on its home floor and will need to be near perfect there if it is to have any chance at a conference title.
IU cannot have a letdown against the supposed "less talented" Big Ten teams of Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska and Illinois. It's imperative the Hoosiers take care of business when those squads come out of the visiting locker room.
Outside of those teams, the home slate is tough with Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State all paying a visit.
For Indiana to have any chance at winning the Big Ten, it likely must win three of those five games. A lot to ask? Of course.
But, the Hoosiers are 44-3 at home since 2011-12. They thrive under their own roof, so beating the better teams of the Big Ten when they come to Bloomington isn't outside of the realm of possibility.
Evan Gordon has shown flashes of brilliance this year.
Indiana's starters are solid, but like last year, there is a clear drop-off in play when the reserves take the floor. The bench needs to provide more of a spark.
Evan Gordon, averaging 7.9 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, is playing the role of sixth man. He's made big splashes, like his string of performances against Oakland, North Florida and Notre Dame where he scored 15, 26 and 11, respectively. But, he followed those up by scoring just two points in IU's next two contests.
So far, his play has been decent, but in order for IU to beat the better teams in the conference, consistency from Gordon is needed.
The rest of the bench needs to play better as well. The play of Stanford Robinson and Devin Davis is understandable considering they are freshmen, but the fact remains, IU needs bigger contributions if it is to have any hope of hanging another banner.
All eyes are on Hanner Mosquera-Perea after Luke Fischer's departure.
Freshman Luke Fischer delivered shocking news when he announced his departure from the program, per Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star. This makes IU's already thin frontcourt even thinner.
Not only was Fischer coming into his own (10 points and three blocks in his last game), but he was a true post presence. Standing at 6'11", he could guard the rim and would have helped Vonleh defend Big Ten post players.
Now, all eyes turn to sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea. He's playing better this year, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, but Mosquera-Perea has yet to be truly impressive.
For the foreseeable future, he's Vonleh's backup. More minutes equals more responsibility, so Mosquera-Perea better break out of his shell and become productive, or else the Hoosiers are in serious trouble.
Without a reliable post player other than Vonleh, Big Ten teams will feast on Indiana's inability to play down low.