College basketball is finally back and here to stay for the next five months, and although we are a week away from games actually counting, it is close enough that a little Andy Williams seems appropriate at this moment. The Indiana Hoosiers enter the year in the AP top-15, predicted to battle for the Big Ten title, and on top of these expectations, many label this season as the make or break one for head coach Tom Crean.
Tuesday night will be the first chance to see this year's edition of the Indiana Hoosiers against someone other than themselves, (that is, if you have a BTN Plus subscription). The Hoosiers welcome the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees for the second meeting between these two teams in just over a year. Ottawa won last year's meeting 109-101 in IU's only loss during it's off-season Canada trip last year. Going 31-3 last year, Ottawa was the runner-up for Canada's National Championship, so while it is easy to roll one's eyes when coaches say their exhibition games are good tests for their squads, it appears that the Indiana coaching staff truly is looking for early season competition.
Ottawa is 8-1 in the past month, all exhibition contests. The team played three straight days this past weekend alone, with the squad suffering their first loss on Sunday. Crean mentioned in his Monday afternoon press conference that junior Collin Hartman will be a game-time decision on whether or not he plays. Sophomore James Blackmon Jr. still suffers from knee soreness at times (Blackmon had surgery at the beginning of the summer), and Crean said Blackmon would have his minutes monitored. In addition, the freshmen will have their minutes limited as well Tuesday night, especially McDonald's All-American Thomas Bryant, who was a non-participant in early preseason practices due to foot soreness.
One of the more intriguing factors for the Hoosiers in the preseason games, despite players having their minutes limited at the front door, is how Crean and staff will piece together the 200 available minutes in these early games. The returning pieces of Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, Troy Williams, and the aforementioned Blackmon will see a large chunk of the allotted minutes, but there are six or seven viable options to soak up the rest of the Hoosiers' playing time.
The Hoosiers' second and final exhibition game will occur on Monday night as Bellarmine University will make the short trip up north to Assembly Hall. Hailing from the Great Lakes Valley Conference, the Knights are coming off of a Division II Final Four appearance that saw their season end with just a three-point loss. Bellarmine suffered a 71-55 loss to Louisville on Saturday to open up the preseason and will face the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday before closing the preseason against the Hoosiers.
Tuesday night should feature the more exciting of Indiana's two preseason contests. Expect a fast paced contest, where the Hoosiers will actually have to play well to start the season off with a victory. Monday should provide a challenge for the first half of the game, but expect the Hoosiers to comfortably cruise in the second. Next week we will preview the Hoosiers' first two games that will count against Eastern Illinois and Austin Peay.