First of all, let me wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas from both myself and the staff of AllHoosiers.com.
We are almost six months into our new venture and while a I feel we've taken baby steps, I also think we're beginning to build a little momentum. Traffic on the boards seems to be up and hopefully we can continue to show some people why AllHoosiers.com is the place to go for all your Indiana coverage.
And I have to tell you this: Nothing beats word of mouth on a venture like this. The more that you can champion our product the better it will be for us all ultimately. There will be more lively discussion on the premium message boards, better interaction for our chats, and just more of a feeling of community between our staff and all of the premium subscribers.
I really hope 2014 takes us in a step in that direction.
I was talking to a friend on Christmas Eve who is someone I would say is an insider with the IU basketball program. I don't want to betray any confidences because it was simply a conversation between two friends. I wasn't quoting this person or anything like that.
But what I found most interesting about our conversation was that this person pretty much had the same take as I do heading into Big Ten play. And that's that basically they really aren't sure what to expect.
This could be a team that wins 10 Big Ten games or more. It's a team that could easily finish in the upper half of the Big Ten standings and have a reasonable shot at getting back to the NCAA Tournament for a third year in a row.
It could also be a team that wins five or six Big Ten games. It could be a team that finishes just above .500 at Assembly Hall in conference play and then struggles mightily on the road.
The bottom line is that It's just really difficult to gauge right now.
These are the keys that I see moving forward that will ultimately tell us if this is a team that finishes closer to initial expectations or limps to the finish.
TAKE CARE OF THE BALL: This more than any other statistic is the one that I believe will not only tell us if Indiana finds a way to finish in the upper half of the standings, but maybe even more important if the Hoosiers can be competitive game in and game out in the Big Ten. It's just difficult to imagine IU being able to hang around with a team like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State or Michigan to name four and turn the ball over at the rate that the Hoosiers have been doing it to this point.
Anyone that knows me knows that I've always been a glass half full guy rather than a glass half empty. I always look for the positive. That's just my nature. And something tells me the turnover ratio come Big Ten play will be reduced significantly for one reason. Tom Crean and his staff will begin to play more specific, designed rotations. And with those rotations the play will become less erratic. If Yogi Ferrell, for example, knows that there are basically only going to be about six or seven other guys wearing crimson on the floor during a game it will make it easier for him to get comfortable with all of those guys. The same is true for Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh and many others. I really believe with more familiarity things will get better. Now maybe I'm a dreamer. We are about to find that out.
HIT A FEW OUTSIDE SHOTS: It sounds simple enough but it's really the difference between IU seeing a lot of zone defenses in the Big Ten which will clog up the middle and make things more difficult or the Hoosiers being able to open things up a bit. Yogi has come a long way in terms of his consistency and that's a plus. But teams are going to try to take Yogi away. That's when Evan Gordon, Will Sheehey, Jeremy Hollowell, Williams players like that are going to need to step up. How much they can step up will tell us a lot as well.
WIN A HIGH PERCENTAGE AT HOME: This hasn't been a concern in recent years but IU could be 0-2 at Assembly Hall by Jan. 15. That's because the Hoosiers open with Michigan State followed by Wisconsin at home. IU also plays teams like Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa at home. It's not going to make it easy. But many of those games will determine just how successful IU can be this conference season. Find a way to go 6-3 at home and then win three games on the road and you're at least at .500 with 19 wins going into the Big Ten Tournament. I think that's the minimum if you're looking at having a shot at the NCAA Tournament. So winning at home is clearly going to be even bigger this year than it has been in the past.
Those are some early thoughts. I would guess on Friday or Saturday I'll post a Insider Blog with my predictions for Big Ten play and give you a chance to make your predictions at that time, too.
Once again, here is wishing you all a happy holiday season and thanks for helping to make AllHoosiers.com a success.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch