Coming off a historic 21-6 record overall and a program-best 16-2 record in the Big Ten, the No. 8 Indiana Hoosiers hope to build off last season’s success and accomplish bigger things this upcoming season. With all of the starting five returning this year, Indiana hopes to avenge last year’s Elite Eight loss to Arizona and keep this program on the rise. Entering her eighth season, head coach Teri Moren has made it clear that expectations are much higher going into this year than in years past.
“There’s luxury with having an experienced team, but also the fear is that there could be some complacency,” Moren said. “And that’s one of the things that we have tried to avoid. So we still have to coach these vets and hold them to the same standards we’ve always had in our program.”
A huge reason Indiana was able to accomplish the special things it did was a breakout year from Mackenzie Holmes. The junior averaged 17.8 points per game and also had 7.6 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories. She also picked up a first-team All Big Ten nomination, as her presence inside will be key in the Hoosiers’ offense this year.
Along with Holmes, Grace Berger was big on both sides of the floor for Indiana last year, especially during the NCAA Tournament. Berger averaged 15.4 points per game during the course of the season, and her mid range scoring helped Indiana the most in an instant classic against the NC State Wolfpack in the Sweet 16. During the offseason, Berger represented the United States playing for the national team. Moren said the Hoosiers often depend on their leaders, and Berger’s experience with the national team could make her a better leader.
“What we always knew with Grace is that she’s an elite-level player,” Moren said. “… Grace has an opportunity to be a significant leader for this bunch.”
Maybe the biggest storyline of this offseason is the return of Ali Patberg, who has been the vocal leader of this team for a number of years. Patberg is entering her seventh season as a Hoosier, and will bring more scoring to an already dangerous Hoosier offense. She earned second-team All Big Ten honors last year, and for Moren said it was such a blessing to hear Patberg will be putting on a cream and crimson jersey one more time.
“If I could have her for another seven years I would in a heartbeat because she’s just so important to our culture,” Moren said. “She has an incredible work ethic, she’s intelligent, but there’s something special about Ali with her relationships individually with each of our players.”
Two other players who could have some breakout years this year could be Chloe Moore-McNeil and Kiandra Browne. Moore-McNeil burst onto the scene late last year, and helped the Hoosiers out in terms of her shooting. Browne will give Indiana some depth in the post coming off the bench. With depth becoming increasingly important at the end of the year, these two could be essential if Indiana wants to make another deep run in March.
Indiana’s schedule consists of a more challenging non-conference slate than in years past. Indiana will have an opportunity for revenge in the third game of the season, as IU will host the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats. The Hoosiers lost a close one to Kentucky last year at Rupp Arena, so with the majority of Indiana’s roster returning, redemption could be on the mind of the Hoosiers going into this game.
Quite possibly the biggest challenge Indiana will face all season will come Nov. 25 in the Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Classic, where the Hoosiers will face the No. 3 Stanford Cardinal. This is an opportunity for Moren to solidify Indiana as an elite basketball program in the country, as a win over the defending national champions could give the team lots of confidence going into the rest of the team’s slate.
Another big game on Indiana’s schedule will be a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16, where IU will host the N.C. State Wolfpack in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Indiana defeated N.C. State in an instant classic 73-70 thanks to some great scoring from Patberg and Holmes. With the Wolfpack’s elite post scorer Elissa Cunane returning, inside scoring will be a key thing to watch on Dec. 2 at Assembly Hall.
With the Big Ten being the gauntlet that it is, Indiana is lucky to have some winnable games in between the games against some of the more elite programs in the conference. However, the Hoosiers have some very challenging road games this year. Taking on teams such as Michigan, Rutgers and Iowa will be tough tests for the team, especially with fans back in the stands for the first time in two years.
During the Hoosiers’ rise to national relevance, one potential win has eluded them time and again: the Maryland Terrapins. Indiana has had many close contests with the Terps in years past, but has not been able to defeat them. With two opportunities to defeat Maryland this year, the team will aim to accomplish this goal this year.
Indiana will face its first challenge of the year in an exhibition match against UIndy at 7 p.m. Friday at Assembly Hall. The Greyhounds finished 11-10 last year, and return some guards who can really score the ball. The Hoosiers are excited to get back on the floor come Friday night, Moren said.
“Obviously coming a game away from the Final Four last year left us coming back to Bloomington with a whole lot of motivation,” Moren said. “We want to get back there and make a deeper run.”