Indiana to play a game like today’s for maybe the final time

Indiana University men's basketball coach Archie Miller looks on during a game earlier this season against Howard in Bloomington. A similar game will be in jeopardy of occuring next season after the Big Ten increases its schedule from 18 to 20 games. (By The Associated Press)

As the calendar turns into a new year, college basketball fans, as well as coaches and players, generally shift their mind-sets to league play. However, Indiana has one final non-Big Ten game to partake in before diving full bore into the most critical portion of its schedule.

The Hoosiers (7-6) will host Youngstown State (2-10) Friday in Bloomington at 8 p.m. (BTN).

“I think getting back to the floor Friday is important as we get reengaged here,” first-year Hoosier coach Archie Miller said Thursday.

The game with the Penguins will allow Indiana 40 minutes of getting any rust off following its holiday break, which come next season, may be a thing of the past.

A year from now, the Big Ten increases its basketball schedule from 18 games to 20, which will make a game like Friday’s difficult to schedule.

“I’m not sure,” Miller admitted when asked how the bigger league schedule will play out next year. “There are a lot of leagues that are starting up relatively really quick after Christmas into their conference play.”

Indiana already is adjusting to a different schedule this season.

In order to play the Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden in New York, the league had to move its schedule up a week because the Big East Conference has a contract with the famed arena through 2026. So if Indiana fans can remember back 25 days, the Hoosiers are already 1-1 in Big Ten play after losing at Michigan and beating Iowa in Bloomington earlier this month.

The Hoosiers will resume conference play Tuesday at Wisconsin (7 p.m., ESPN).

“It’s a balance when you’re playing 20 because of the non-conference schedule,” Miller said, “in how you’re going to have to deal with it.”

RELATED STORY:Indiana basketball can rest now, but work will resume soon

The reasoning behind the increase is to improve the strength of schedule of the teams within the league, which in theory better positions them for an NCAA Tournament bid in March.

Instead of Indiana playing a pair of mid- to low-major programs (like Friday’s game), it’ll have to face a couple of high-major programs within its conference.

Indiana and Purdue will maintain its home-and-home series in the revised schedule.

In addition, Indiana still will have to play in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, as well as the Gavitt Tipoff Games against the Big East, which makes the Hoosiers’ schedule even more difficult (or stronger, depending on your perspective).

“There is going to be some trial and error,” Miller said.

One of the problems with the condensed schedule this season, according to Miller, is the fact that practice time is limited over the next two months, and that will be alleviated to a degree next season, he explained.

“I do feel like when we go to 20 games,” Miller said, “we’ll have a portion of our Big Ten schedule early, which is going to give you maybe some space in January and February, where your Big Ten games aren’t as stacked up like they’ll be this year.”

Particularly in his first season of laying a foundation for the Indiana program, Miller believes his team needs all the practice time that it can get, especially off a holiday lay-off.

“When you come off a break, in general,” Miller said, “it’s a time you can really continue to work hard. But conference play is going to get started earlier (next year), so I’m not sure how it’s all going to work.”

“For us to be able to play (a none-league game) after Christmas, to get a game in before Big Ten play, was important for us getting back off of break. We’ll see how it works.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.