Between now and New Year's Eve, the fledgling Indiana Hoosiers basketball team will face 10 opponents ranging from pushovers (hello, Bryant University!) to a possible powerhouse (rival Kentucky).
After opening the season with exhibition wins over Grace College and St. Joseph's (Indiana), it's time to find out just how good this youthful team can be.
Let's take a look at IU's first 12 games of 2009-10.
Nov. 13: Howard
The Bison hail from the MEAC and finished last year with an 8-23 record reminiscent of IU's own 6-25. Their leading scorer from last year, Eugene Myatt, is no longer on the roster. Belgian junior forward Kandi Mukole and Indianapolis native Kyle Riley, a guard, will lead the attack, but I expect this one to be a blowout at Assembly Hall.
PROJECTION: Indiana cruises, 1-0
Nov. 16: USC Upstate
In their third year as a D-I program, the Spartans of Spartanburg, SC don't appear to pose much of a threat. However, they do have a cool media guide available online! They also have the seasoned Eddie Payne, who is entering his 25th year as a head coach. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.
PROJECTION: Indiana wins in a walk, 2-0
Nov. 19: Ole Miss (O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off )
*Nov. 20: Kansas State/Boston University
*Nov. 22: TBA
The Hoosiers will travel to sunny Puerto Rico to take part in the Tip-Off this year. Ole Miss is a quality opponent hovering just outside the top 25, and Hoosier transfer Nick Williams (traitor!) will get to observe his former teammates from the Rebels bench.
The tourney features a tough field including ranked Villanova, Georgia Tech, and Dayton, as well as Ole Miss and Kansas State. Really, the only soft teams are Boston U. (Indiana's likely Round Two opponent) and George Mason. The website (linked above) is a good resource if you want to dig deeper into the field.
PROJECTION: L vs. Ole Miss, W vs. BU, L vs. Georgia Tech, 3-2
Nov. 28: Northwestern State
A member of the Southland Conference, the Demons are another team that struggled last year. They have games against Texas Tech and Indiana in their early schedule, so we'll have a better idea of whether they pose any threat to IU after the Red Raiders get their shot.
PROJECTION: W, 4-2
Dec. 1: Maryland
Senior Greivis Vasquez leads a seasoned Terrapins team that lost to Memphis in the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament. Maryland is lacking in quality big men but is deep at guard and swingman and will test the defense of Verdell Jones, Jeremiah Rivers, and the rest of the Hoosiers backcourt.
This is a home game for IU, and I expect Assembly Hall to be rocking for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Maryland has a cakewalk through its early schedule before coming to a truly hostile environment.
PROJECTION: Close L, 4-3
Dec. 8: Pittsburgh
Despite losing its top three players in Sam Young, DeJuan Blair, and Levance Fields, the Panthers may still be a tough opponent for the young Hoosiers. Coach Jamie Dixon gets his teams ready to contend year in and year out and runs a tough offense and defense.
This one will come down to whose young players are more ready to step into the limelight. The Hoosiers may actually have the advantage in experience, as Dixon is going with an entirely new starting lineup to open 2009-10.
PROJECTION: W, 5-3
Dec. 12: No. 5 Kentucky
Another awesome game at Assembly Hall. I remember the last time the Wildcats came to town in 2007, when Jordan Crawford schooled his big brother Joe and paced IU to a win.
Patrick Patterson probably remembers too, which can't be good for Indiana. I expect the junior big man and Kentucky's top-notch gang of freshmen to put on a show in what could be a great game for fans of high-flying, fast-paced basketball.
PROJECTION: L, 5-4
Dec. 19: North Carolina Central
They opened the season with an 89-42 loss at North Carolina. In just their third year as part of Division I, they simply aren't ready for major conference talent.
PROJECTION: W, 6-4
Dec. 22: Loyola (Maryland)
Part of the MAAC, they started out well last season before losing eight of their final nine games. The Greyhounds will have begun conference play by the time this Christmas break matchup rolls around, and I'm seeing...hang on...crystal ball?
PROJECTION: W, 7-4
Dec. 28: Bryant University
Like NC Central and USC Upstate, Bryant is a newcomer to the D-I scene. Still, they won eight games last year, including upsets at Yale and against Long Island at home. Seniors Nick Pontes and Cecil Gresham are capable players.
But this team was blown out by every major-conference opponent they faced last year, scoring only 36 at Big Ten also-ran Iowa, and I don't expect a whole lot to have changed since then.
PROJECTION: W, 8-4
So there you have it. Heading into their New Year's Eve home date with Michigan, the Hoosiers should have a bunch of wins under their collective belts, and hopefully one or two upsets against major-conference opposition to help them grow a little bit of swagger.
It's a major bonus to have virtually all of their tough early matchups at Assembly Hall, aside from the Puerto Rico tourney, and home court advantage will definitely be a factor.
This early schedule ought to give Indiana fans a chance to see who's for real among the bumper crop of freshmen and who has improved from last year's core of Jones, Devan Dumes, and Tom Pritchard.