Zach Osterman , email@example.com
Indiana men’s basketball coach Archie Miller won’t need to wait a month to get his first taste of Assembly Hall at its rowdiest.
Duke will travel to Indiana as part of this upcoming season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with date and time to be determined. The meeting begins a three-week stretch during which IU will play the Blue Devils, then two Big Ten games, then travel to Louisville before meeting Notre Dame in Indianapolis.
But Duke might be the pearl. It’s a chance to score a surprise nonconference win, with a second-consecutive home game in the annual series. It’s also an early opportunity to change some minds.
The Blue Devils currently sit at No. 7 nationally in CBS Sports’ oft-updated “Top 25 (and one).” They lose a host of talented underclassmen from last season, but Grayson Allen and Marques Bolden return. And they’re bolstered by a recruiting class ranked No. 2 overall in 2017 by 247Sports, featuring five-star prospects Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr.
Indiana, meanwhile, likley won’t be found anywhere near a preseason poll this fall. The Hoosiers must compensate for the loss of three early draft entrants — their leading, third-leading and fourth-leading scorers. There are James Blackmon Jr.- and Thomas Bryant-sized holes to fill in the rotation, all while the team adapts to a new coaching staff.
Perhaps that’s why the IU-Duke matchup, which normally would be greeted as one of the best pairings of the annual nonconference series, was cast in a distinctly more tepid light Thursday when it was confirmed.
One national writer called it “a marquee matchup in name only.” College basketball Twitter suggested a number of Big Ten teams, including Northwestern, would be more deserving of a shot at one of the ACC’s annual frontrunners. The Wildcats are a likely preseason top 25 team this fall.
In one way, the criticism is understandable. Though he boasts a roster including five seniors, Miller’s team does need some retooling. His best hope right now might be that those seniors can buoy his program short-term, while he sinks recruiting roots and rebuilds from the 2017 class up.
Duke, meanwhile, carries Final Four aspirations. The Blue Devils’ own recruiting success, coupled with the return of a controversial but undoubtedly talented player such as Allen, positions them near the top of college basketball for another year.
Typically, ACC/Big Ten Challenge pairings are based at least loosely on expectations for the coming season, yet IU’s and Duke’s appear to differ significantly right now.
Therein lies Miller’s challenge, but also his opportunity.
Winning at Louisville will be awfully difficult for anyone this year (the Cardinals are ranked ahead of Duke in that CBS Sports preseason poll, for reference). That late November-to-mid-December run of games is going to test Miller right away. All of that comes after an early season trip to New Jersey to play Seton Hall.
But what if Indiana can beat Duke? It’s a sizable “if” without question, but it would do more than just provide the Hoosiers with a high-quality nonconference win.
It would suggest to college basketball at large that IU won’t need to sink terribly deep to start rising again under its new coach. It would be early momentum for a program that’s actually — quietly — gained a fair amount of it in Miller’s first two-plus months in charge.
It will not be easy. The likeliest outcome is probably something akin to Duke’s last visit to Assembly Hall in 2005, when Indiana huffed and puffed and blew the arena’s doors off when Marco Killingsworth dunked at the under-eight media timeout, and then promptly lost by eight.
But it’s also an opportunity.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.