The start of conference play allows us to take a look at what teams have done over the previous two months and assess their non-conference performance. That's a pretty significant factor in selection and seeding come that magical Sunday in mid-March.
Most programs are done with games outside of their league by the time conference play begins; some will have a random non-conference game in the next six weeks, but those are exceptions to the rule. We're now commencing resume measurements that will only populate the college hoops convo further as we turn to 2014.
So let's look at Indiana. The Hoosiers, a No. 1 seed a year ago and now playing with something of a retooled roster, have marquee wins over ... Stony Brook, Washington and Evansville. The three best teams they've played -- Connecticut, Syracuse and Notre Dame -- have ended in IU losses. Lump Illinois into that segment now, too, as IU opened Big Ten play on Tuesday and will fly home and into 2014 with an 0-4 record against possible/probable NCAA tournament teams.
Illinois won 83-80 over Indiana in Champaign, and so now the Hoosiers are 10-4. If you'd like a dose of perspective on how things can change in a year in this terrific sport, it took 58 days longer a season ago for Crean's club to get scarred a fourth time.
IU was significantly hindered from victory Tuesday by its lack of scoring in the final seven minutes of regulation. And then the drought continued into the free session. Hoosiers sophomore combo guard Yogi Ferrell went for 30, including a 3 that cut it to a one-point game with 3.1 left in overtime. It was the first field goal for Indiana since nearly seven minutes remained in regulation. A mere one or two baskets in between, and Indiana's not subject to a post like this.
Perhaps that's finicky, but that's the breaks when a non-conference season doesn't offer up one quality win. I still think IU can be an NCAA tournament team, but it's definitely been a come-down season to this point, perhaps more drastic than a lot expected -- and that's after losing two lottery picks in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
The win marked a sixth straight at home for Illinois when playing Indiana. John Groce's team is now 22-2 all-time when putting 70 or more up on a foe. And this was only the second time this season a team got 70 or more on the scoreboard against the Illini. Want one more stat? This should make Illinois fans feel quite nice: When a game is decided by five points or fewer, Illinois is an 11-3 team with Groce calling the shots.
Rayvonte Rice, a junior guard with a nice game (and a player whose probably going to become household in the Big Ten this season), led Illinois with 29. Keep an eye out.
That said, the story is Indiana. And similar to how Louisville is seen as a team with a lot to prove because of its total lack of quality wins, Indiana will now have to do all of its work in-conference in order to earn some cred and up its chances at a quality seed -- or mere selection to the NCAA tournament come March 16.
But unlike Louisville, Indiana's league is set up to offer a plethora of chances over the next 10 weeks. The next comes in four days, at home, against Michigan State.