Fred Glass gets it. He really does. Indiana's athletic director knows scheduling a bunch of basketball patsies is no way to excite the Cream 'n Crimson masses -- or boost program support.
This coming season's non-conference schedule reflects that, and if it had to do as much to chance as to intent, no matter. The Hoosiers will play Pitt and SMU at Assembly Hall. They will play Georgetown and Louisville at New York City's Madison Square Garden. They have Butler as part of the Crossroads Classic at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
That is a huge upgrade from last season's lightweight run of Samford, Stony Brook, Kennesaw State, and more.
“I'm not so sure we really boosted the schedule in a deliberate way,” Glass said. “I can't say it was some mastermind idea to beef up our schedule. In general parameters, I would say this is pretty consistent with what we've been trying to do year in and year out.
“Some of the RPI impact follows the vagaries of a team being up and down. I don't really subscribe to the theory that our non-conference schedule hurt us in terms of postseason play. We didn't get in the postseason because we finished too low in the Big Ten. That's irrelevant to the non-conference schedule.”
Perhaps, but the fact IU didn't even merit a NIT bid, while Indiana State did, caused plenty of fan anguish. The Hoosiers' 17-15 overall record, 7-11 in the Big Ten (which earned them the eighth seed in the conference tourney) was a huge factor in conference preparation as well as postseason selection committee impression.
Glass wanted to change that, and while this won't mean a return of the Kentucky series anytime soon (the Wildcats want a Lucas Oil Stadium site over home-and-home; the Hoosiers are set on home-and-home or nothing), it will mean some powerhouse games rich in national implications.
“We're trying to be more mindful of having at least one marquee non-conference game in Assembly Hall,” Glass said. “The whole conclusion and at least intermittent suspension of the Kentucky series has made that more challenging to get that rhythm. But this year we've got that back with the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Bloomington with Pitt, then SMU in Assembly Hall. That's a couple of good non-conference games.”
Pitt projects as a top-25 team after going 26-10 last season. Coach Larry Brown has resurrected SMU into a top-15 squad. The Mustangs were 27-10 last year.
Look for more impact starting with the 2015-16 season, when the Big Ten and Big East begin playing each other as part of the newly created Dave Gavitt Tip-off Games.
“The Big Ten/ACC Challenge being at home helps,” Glass said. “We knew about the Gavitt Game series, but we couldn't say. Our master plan in the last 18 months was to get the Gavitt Games and ACC rotating in and out of Bloomington, which is almost always a marquee game. Then we stumbled into SMU game, which is great. Larry (Brown) and (IU coach Tom Crean) are close. It's neat to have (Brown) come back. We did have a method to our madness, it just didn't kick in as soon as we thought it would.”
The two trips to New York City against Louisville, a preseason top-10 squad, and rebuilding Georgetown (it's coming off an 18-15 season) continue IU's recent push to play more games on the East Coast in conjunction with Big Ten expansion that has added Maryland and Rutgers.
“We've always had good quality neutral court games,” Glass said. “We're staying with that by going twice to Madison Square Garden, which I think will be cool. We're playing quality opponents there.
“As far as playing more out East, it is a conscious decision at a conference level and an institutional level. We have increasingly viewed the Eastern seaboard, particularly the New York area as well as Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland, as really fertile recruiting ground. A lot of our alumni live out there. New York might have the third-highest concentration of alums behind Chicago and Indianapolis. The DC area has a lot, too.
“From a conference perspective we're looking to activate the expansion we've invested in, so being out there and available is important. Madison Square Garden is a cool place to play. Then to play Georgetown (which is from the Washington DC area) as one of the games is sort of a twofer, because we're in New York, playing a DC team.”
Crean was a driving force in that East Coast push. That reflects his recent recruiting, which has had more of an Eastern feel with players such as Victor Oladipo, Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Noah Vonleh and, now, incoming freshman Robert Johnson.
“You always need to play like you're behind, even if you're ahead,” Glass said. “I do think we're ahead. Tom was in the forefront of being out there. We will continue to do that.
“We have some inherent advantages because there are a lot of IU people out there and those people are crazy about basketball. It's the same with playing at Madison Square Garden and (Brooklyn's) Barclay Center. It's like Indiana can come, so sign me up. They turn out like crazy. It's like a home game for us. We have some advantages because Indiana basketball is so powerful.”