(Hoosiers enter conference play short a couple players, but not short of any heart)
On Dec. 31, 2009, the Indiana Hoosiers will begin Big Ten play, hosting the Michigan Wolverines.
This game is the first of many that will truly test these young Hoosiers, and see what kind of talent they have, or don't have.
Last season, while the Hoosiers were losing night after night it seemed, they were at least competing with their opponents; even if they faltered late down the stretch, like in games against Northwestern, Michigan State, and Michigan.
This season, with a new group of freshman bringing in even more talent, the Hoosiers are poised to strike fear in a few favorites.
While the Cream and Crimson will have to figure out who will handle the scoring load with freshman guard Maurice Creek's unfortunate season ending injury, they should still have a chance to pull off a few upsets.
For one, whenever the Hoosiers are at home, they should have a greater chance of winning. With the fans' undying spirit to the program, and the way they cheer on the team 'til the end, the players on the court know that Assembly Hall will be rocking every time they step on the court, and we have seen in the past how the squad has fed off the crowd's energy to turn close games into wins, or narrow losses.
Another reason the Hoosiers should contend this season is that they have more experience. A year removed from an awful 1-17 record, the current squad will do anything it can to make sure history doesn't repeat itself.
Sophomores Verdell Jones III and Tom Pritchard are like seasoned Big Ten vets, after having to play major minutes last year, and senior guard Devan Dumes should also step up after a year playing in the Big Ten.
And a third reason that Crean's kids can pull of some upsets is that they are just more talented. Christian Watford brings a long body along with his 6'9'' frame, but he also has the skills of a wing player.
Jeremiah Rivers brings athleticism and defense to the squad lacking in both last year. Jordan Hulls brings excellent vision and great three-point shooting. Derek Elston brings a presence down low, as well as the athletic ability to drive the lane and get to the hoop.
All these players should help the Hoosiers to a few more victories than last year, where their only victory in the Big Ten was a 68-60 victory against Iowa that had Assembly Hall rocking like old times.
With the Hoosiers returning 66 percent of their scoring and adding the likes of Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls to the squad, they should be a more formidable opponent.
After hosting Michigan on New Year's Eve (12:00 PM ET ESPN2), Indiana travels to Ohio State on Jan. 6, before returning to Bloomington to face Illinois on Jan. 9.