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Hoosiers prepare for potential Cinderella: the Belmont Bruins

Indiana continued its record-setting season on March 22 with a 63-32 win over No. 13 VCU. The Rams’ 32 points mark the fewest points allowed by a Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament. 

Outscoring VCU 41-15 in the second half, the Hoosiers cruised their way to a round-of-64 victory, and will face 12-seeded Belmont in the round of 32 on March 24. This game will tip off at 5 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPNU.

Let’s break down Indiana’s matchup with Belmont. 

Showdown with potential Cinderella team

Grace Berger looks to make a pass in Indiana's 63-32 win over VCU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

The 12 seed defeating the five seed is a classic upset pick come tournament time, and Belmont is the latest team to pull it off. On Monday, the Bruins defeated No. 5 Gonzaga 64-59 behind 25 points from guard Destinee Wells.

After a shaky first quarter, Belmont faced a nine-point deficit, but took care of the ball when it needed to down the stretch. Belmont finished with just six turnovers compared to 20 from Gonzaga.

The Bruins turned it on after a slow start, outscoring Gonzaga 39 to 22 in the second and third quarters. Indiana has prided itself on being strong with the ball, which presents an interesting matchup with a Belmont defense that is eager for steals.

Indiana’s most experienced leaders, Grace Berger and Ali Patberg, are the likely candidates to spend the majority of the game defending Wells. This recipe has led Indiana to one of its most successful seasons in program history, and will be relied upon again on Wednesday.

[READ: 'No secret sauce': How Grace Berger, Mackenzie Holmes transformed themselves into two of the Big Ten's best]

Wells is a 5-foot-6 freshman from Lakeland, Tennessee. She has led the way for Belmont all year, averaging 17.9 points and 4.7 assists per game, and will challenge Indiana’s defense to limit her shots. Wells is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, 47 percent from the field and 86 percent from the free-throw line.

Belmont finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference during the regular season, but made a run in the conference tournament to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins are riding an 11-game win streak and have not lost since Feb. 9 versus Southeast Missouri. 

Building off a clean performance

Teri Moren prefers her teams to dig in on the defensive end first and foremost, which is exactly how the Hoosiers won their first game of the tournament. Indiana did not let anyone on VCU score in double digits, and the Hoosiers forced 14 turnovers on Monday.

Indiana was quick to close out on shots against VCU, forcing the Rams to shoot just 22 percent from the field. VCU was 2-for-8 from beyond the arc, and Indiana defended well without fouling, as VCU attempted just six free throws.

But it wasn’t just the defense that clicked for IU on Monday. Three Hoosiers finished with double-digit points, and Berger paced Indiana with 20 points. Offensively, Indiana was smart with the ball and didn’t allow VCU to capitalize on bad decisions.

Turning the ball over just seven times, Indiana controlled the pace and didn’t let VCU run in transition. This forced the Rams to play a half-court game on a day where shots simply weren’t falling. The Hoosiers took advantage of this and scored 17 points off turnovers. 

The big picture

Indiana skated by VCU on Monday, but that doesn’t mean things will be easy moving forward. Consistent trends that have hurt Indiana are still present and leave questions as to how deep of a run it will make. 

Against VCU, Indiana shot 5-for-18 from 3-point land, a category that has been unfriendly to the Hoosiers this year. As a team, Indiana shoots 29 percent from 3, which is unlikely to improve too drastically unless a player gets uncharacteristically hot. 

This means Indiana will need to continue to rely on defense to create offensive opportunities, and let Berger and Patberg control the pace and style of play. With Gonzaga being upset by Belmont, the Hoosiers could have caught a bit of a break with an easier second-round opponent. 

Rutgers, the six seed in Indiana’s bracket, was upset by BYU to create a decent amount of chaos in the Mercado Region. Still, NC State and Texas A&M remain alive as the region’s top two seeds.

If Indiana hopes to keep surviving and advancing, improved 3-point shooting could be the X-factor. The Hoosiers have shown the ability to win without lighting it up from beyond the arc, but will need a near-perfect offensive showing to pull off an upset in later rounds.

Indiana is still lacking production from its bench, which has been an area of concern since the opt-out due to injury of Jaelynn Penn in early February. Even in a 31-point win, Indiana’s bench scored zero points and attempted just four shots.

Indiana will have to ride the strength of its starters, who can compete with top teams in the country, but playing a complete game against a top seed with limited bench production could be the Hoosiers’ downfall.

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