Indiana is a near consensus pick to win the Big Ten in 2022-23.
But it is also a near consensus view that the Hoosiers are not a preseason top-10 team. While they are the top-ranked team in the Big Ten, IU is No. 13 in the preseason AP top-25, and No. 14 in the coaches poll.
Clearly, there’s a story in that dichotomy.
The Hoosiers are the popular top pick by-and-large because they return the most scoring and minutes of any team in the league. They have Trayce Jackson-Davis and Xavier Johnson back, who many believe are the top big man and point guard in the Big Ten.
But returning production only tells part of the story.
The Hoosiers haven’t finished better than eighth in the Big Ten over the last four years, and they haven’t had a winning league record since 2016. It’s reasonable to ask — how much better can IU be with most of the same players back this season?
While things might look promising for the 2022-23 edition of IU basketball, the perception of the program in the eyes of the players and coaches across the league is filtered through a different lens.
Former Rutgers guard Geo Baker was a freshman in 2017-18, Archie Miller’s first season at the helm in Bloomington. Baker and the Scarlet Knights defeated Miller’s Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament that season in New York, and they went on to claim seven of eight against IU to close out his career.
Based on his own experience and the Hoosiers’ recent track record, Baker doesn’t believe this Indiana team will strike fear in the hearts of the returning players in the conference.
“Looking at it from a player’s perspective, for the guys that are returning in the Big Ten, nobody’s scared of Indiana,” Baker said on the Field of 68’s Big Ten preview.
“Nobody’s looking at Indiana like ‘oh man, we’ve got to get ready to play Indiana.’ Because this is a team that hasn’t really been in the top half of the Big Ten for the past couple years. A lot of people on the outside are hyping them up, but Indiana, for me at Rutgers, when we were playing Indiana, we knew we were going in with a win. That was our mindset.”
Indiana won its first six games against Rutgers all-time, including its first five since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten in 2014. But the series dramatically flipped at Madison Square Garden in 2018. Indiana led 24-8 in the first half before Corey Sanders erupted for 28 points and Baker added 15 in a 76-69 Rutgers win.
Since then IU’s only win against Rutgers came in 2019 on Juwan Morgan’s senior day. Rutgers has won the other seven games over that span by an average of 7.6 points per contest.
So Baker’s perspective makes sense. But he also picked IU to finish second in the Big Ten this year, so he does see a major improvement coming. He just doesn’t believe that improvement will come via intimidation.
“I do think they’re going to be really good this year,’ he said. “I definitely give them their respect in that sense. But just from a player’s perspective, nobody is looking at Indiana like ‘damn, they’re the top dog.'”
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