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Breaking down Indiana’s NCAA Tournament draw: First-round opponent not one to overlook

After a stunning loss to Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, Indiana now focuses on the NCAA Tournament, which will take place solely in San Antonio, Texas.

Grace Berger attempts a jumper against Iowa. Berger finished with 22 points in the win. (IU Athletics)

The Hoosiers were given a No. 4 seed in the Mercado Region, and will face off against the 13-seeded VCU Rams in the first round. With the great year that Indiana is having thus far, it will be interesting to see how the Hoosiers compete with some of the other elite programs around the country. Head coach Teri Moren says Selection Monday is one of her favorite times of the year. 

“Monday night is always exciting,” Moren said.”The selection show is unlike any night, as I’ve always told our players. You work so hard, and in such a strange year there have been a lot of challenges. All the work that these kids have done has paid off to this point.”

Potential matchups

VCU

The Hoosiers will certainly get the best of VCU in this first-round game, as the Rams have won seven of their past eight games. This includes the program’s first ever A10 tournament championship with an 81-69 win over UMass. Indiana will have to be on its A-game against a scorching hot Rams squad.

VCU is led by three very good guards that Indiana needs to account for come game time. Most notably, the Hoosiers will need a strong gameplan to stop Taya Robinson, who was recently awarded A10 First-Team honors. Robinson is having quite the senior campaign, averaging 14.7 points per game while also picking up a spot on the A10 All-Defensive Team.

But the other two guards VCU starts can not be forgotten about in this game. Tera Reed and Sarah Te-Biasu are having spectacular seasons as well, as Reed was awarded All A10 Third Team and Te-Bisau was selected to the A10 All-Rookie Team.

Indiana has shown flashes of shutting down some very good guards at times, such as holding Nia Clouden of Michigan State to two points in the first half of the Big Ten tournament game. But making that a consistency will be key in this matchup against VCU, whose production comes mostly from their guards. Nicole Cardano-Hillary, who will most likely get the assignment of guarding Robinson, will need to play her best game of the season in order for Indiana to advance to the round of 32.

Gonzaga

If the Hoosiers get past the Rams in the first round, they would most likely take on fifth-seeded Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are coming off a buzzer-beating conference championship victory, so they will be riding high off of that momentum right into the tournament. The Zags have been a Top 25 team consistently throughout the year, so the Hoosiers will certainly not have a cupcake second-round game in San Antonio.

The Bulldogs are led by a very solid guard/forward duo in Jill Townsend and Jenn Wirth. The two combine for around 25 points per game, and have been their main catalysts in the scoring column this year. They are also a very good defensive team, holding a BYU team that was second in the WCC to only 42 points on the day.

In this game, it will be important for the Hoosiers to find multiple ways to score. If the Hoosiers can get their outside shots to fall while establishing Mackenzie Holmes and Aleksa Gulbe inside, Indiana has a great shot to advance to the Round of 32. 

NC State

This would be quite the challenging Sweet 16 game here for the Hoosiers, as the Wolfpack were awarded the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament. NC State is coming off an ACC championship victory, and is certainly a contender to win the entire tournament. The IU and NC State two teams are also neck and neck in scoring margin, showing they have done well against their competition this year. Indiana making the second weekend by itself would be a huge step in the right direction for Moren and company. 

“[I think we can go] as deep as we can get,” Moren said. “We are going to be excited about that, but we have to get past that first round first before you even get to the next, and our focus right now is on VCU.”

The Wolfpack are led by stud center Elissa Cunane, who would definitely be defending Holmes if these teams faced off against each other. She can give you 20 on any given night with her great presence inside. But the reason NC State is so dangerous is because any of the starting five can do that same thing. It would be the biggest challenge this Indiana team has had by far, and this is really where they could have used Jaelynn Penn. 

Preparing for the tournament

The main concern that was seen during that Michigan State loss was the lack of efficiency on the offensive end. There were too many missed shots, free throws, and turnovers that allowed the Spartans to take the lead and eventually win the game. This absolutely can’t happen in the tournament, as the Hoosiers will need to play their best basketball all 40 minutes of every game they are in. 

Another concern was the fact that Clouden — after scoring just two points before halftime — was able to score 28 points in just the second half. IU will be facing another very good guard this Sunday in VCU’s Robinson, so it will be interesting to see how the Hoosiers make adjustments to their perimeter defense before the opening round.

Despite the concerns, the loss to Michigan State could very well be a positive for this team. Yes, winning a Big Ten tournament would be big going into the tournament and a massive accomplishment for this program. But that loss now gets the team back on track after nine straight wins in order to achieve the main goal for this team — winning an NCAA title. 

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