It will be nearly six years to the day that Indiana last traveled for a NCAA tournament matchup when the Hoosiers face off against Washington on Saturday in the Sweet 16.
Even IU’s most experienced player, sixth-year senior captain Spencer Glass, wasn’t around for the 1-0 loss against No. 1 Wake Forest on Nov. 29, 2015.
Since then, Todd Yeagley has led Indiana to three Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and three College Cup appearances, twice as a runner-up.
Any hope of completing the Quest for Nine requires two upsets of teams ranked higher than IU, starting with No. 2 Washington.
In today’s Q49 Journal, I break down how the two sides have gotten here, what to expect Saturday and what the deciding factors will come down to.
HOW HAVE WE GOTTEN HERE?
Starting with the visitors, IU had essentially two finals to determine Big Ten silverware, one away at Maryland at the end of the regular season, and the other away at Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament final. Indiana fell 2-0 to the Terrapins and 3-0 to the Nittany Lions, despite performances that warranted a better scoreline.
I’ve written here and spoken on The Q49 Podcast at length about the contrast in performance and result for Indiana, with very few examples of IU failing to put up a strong performance. Narrow margins, clinical finishing and slight elements of luck have led to a different season outlook compared to the Big Ten double won in the spring.
Ending Big Ten play with a heavy 3-0 defeat to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament final was an unfortunate conclusion for an Indiana team that had trended positively for the previous several matches. They had to recover quickly however, and face a dangerous Bowling Green team. The response was incredibly impressive.
A 2-0 win in which IU was outshot 12-6 on paper is unimpressive, but the Hoosiers put in their most complete performance defensively, in my opinion. The first half was a ‘stalemate’ in the words of head coach Todd Yeagley, with just four total shots heading into the break. Indiana limited the Falcons to just one of those, and allowed few touches inside their 18-yard box.
The defensive focus brought in by the return of redshirt senior midfielder Joe Schmidt from injury continued into the second 45. The job was made easier when Victor Bezerra got back on the scoring charts with a composed right-footed finish five minutes into the resumption of play. A second came not long after; following a mazey run by Herbert Endeley, Glass overlapped on the left hand side and placed a shot in the bottom right corner.
Indiana created a few good chances for themselves, and scored twice. In the late stages, Yeagley brought on Andrew Goldsworthy as a fifth defender and locked up shop, making Roman Celentano’s time in net a fairly stress-free one.
Defending like that against Washington and Indiana has a great chance of victory.
Switching sides now, how have Washington fared this season?
Over 18 matches, they have a remarkable 15-1-2 record, featuring an 11-game winning streak to enter the season, a Pac-12 record.
Washington’s No. 2 seed in the tournament, however, is via an at-large bid as the Huskies failed to win the Pac-12 tournament. The No. 1 team in both the Pac-12 and the nation? Oregon State, who despite having an inferior 13-2-3 record outranked the Huskies based on their head-to-head.
Of the three matches Washington has failed to win, one was a scoreless draw with Stanford, and the other two came against Oregon State, with a 3-2 loss at home and a 2-2 draw on the road marking the toughest contests of the season.
Against teams in the top-25 in RPI, Washington has gone 3-1-1, while Indiana is just 2-2 in such matches. The Huskies have faced the gauntlet of the toughest conference in RPI, and it prepared them for a rival battle in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Portland.
Washington outshot Portland 12-1 in the first half, but had to wait until the 44th minute to open the scoring when Dylan Teves buried a shot after a well-worked counter attack.
Washington would endure another long wait, going until the 80th minute when Teves scored again with a header at the back-post.
A penalty conceded a minute later opened up some late drama, but Washington made it 3-1 with an unreal finish in the final four minutes from Teves to cap off the hat trick.
Washington will stay at home as the Hoosiers travel west for the first matchup between the two sides in over 20 years.
DECIDING FACTORS IN THE MATCHUP
Indiana and Washington have each at one point this season been ranked No. 1 in the nation. Despite out-seeding the Hoosiers by 13, the Huskies would be wise to avoid downplaying the abilities of their opponent, and obviously the same goes for the visitors.
Talented teams play out from the back and use their defenders as key creative and goal-scoring weapons. A battle of left-backs will be something to watch out for.
Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Charlie Ostrem leads Washington in assists with eight and has four in the last three matches. Ostrem will prove a threat down the left side with his runs from left-back, especially with the kind of delivery he provided for Teves for the second goal against Portland.
On the opposite side, All-American left-back Spencer Glass will be one of Indiana’s biggest creative threats from out wide, following his first goal in over two years against Bowling Green.
Brett Bebej and Nyk Sessock will jostle for the right-back position for Indiana, but the defensive solidity of Bebej may triumph over the creative presence of Sessock when trying to balance out who gets the starting nod. Dealing with Ostrem will also require strong defensive acumen from Herbert Endeley who has played in the right midfield position for Indiana in the last few matches.
Dylan Teves (9 goals, 7 assists) and Victor Bezerra (7 goals, 5 assists) are the obvious threats up front, leading their respective sides in points. Both will be tightly marked and will need to bring exceptional off-ball and link-up play to make their fullest impact. Neither team allows many good looks inside the 18, and it may come down to which side can get a moment of magic to break the lock.
The deciding factor for me: composure. We saw five total instances of it in the final third in the second round of NCAA action between the two sides. When they picked their spots, read the match well, and played the extra pass near the goal, good things happened. Indiana have been working all season on getting more comfortable and lethal in front of goal, and having the decision making and composure to convert on the few chances they get will be vital.
On The Q49 Podcast before the NCAA tournament, I predicted Indiana would win the College Cup. That starts with IU knocking off its toughest foe of the season in the Sweet 16.
When Indiana last won a national title in 2012, it had to overcome Goliath in the form of No. 1 Notre Dame.
Are the Hoosiers up for playing the role of David once more? We’ll see on Saturday night.