We've got a lot to chat about as Indiana's road to the College Cup just got a bit more interesting. Following IU's 3-0 loss at Penn State on Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament final, the Hoosiers snuck into an NCAA Tournament seed and a first-round bye.
What does all this mean? Well, let's break it all down.
Hoosiers go dancing as the No. 15 overall seed
? 2021 NCAA DI Men’s Soccer Championship BRACKET ?
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Indiana had to sweat out Selection Monday a bit as 14 seeds came and went, and the Hoosiers weren't yet listed. After falling to Penn State just a day earlier in the Big Ten Tournament final (more on that below), IU's case for a national seed and a coveted first-round bye became tougher to justify.
However, the Hoosiers did just enough, per the NCAA Tournament selection committee, to earn the No. 15 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
So, how should one feel about Indiana's tournament draw?
First, as a quick aside, Monday's drawing marks Indiana's eighth-straight season earning a national seed in the NCAA Tournament, the longest active streak among any program in the nation. That feat is simply remarkable given the ever-changing national landscape and increased parity in the last decade or so.
All this to say -- yes, you should be happy that Indiana earned a national seed. Any season that ends in a top-16 seed shouldn't be taken for granted. Not only do the Hoosiers avoid a first-round matchup and, in turn, are afforded a full week of rest and preparation, they also get to host the second round match next Sunday in Bloomington.
On the flipside, the No. 15 seed means that IU will likely be on the road for the entirety of the NCAA Tournament following the second round, and with a potential IU-Washington showdown looming in the Sweet 16, having to travel out west isn't ideal at all. In essence, if the Hoosiers are going to make a deep tournament run, more than likely they'll have to do so in multiple hostile road environments.
But before IU can look ahead, it must first take care of business at home next Sunday against the winner of Louisville and Bowling Green (first round set for Thursday night).
Indiana has seen Louisville plenty of times throughout the years, including this past preseason -- 5-4 IU win -- so the two sides should have advanced knowledge of each other. Moreover, Cardinals head coach John Michael Hayden is no stranger to playing in Bloomington as he won back-to-back national titles playing for the Hoosiers in 2003 and 2004. It's only fitting that the two sides meet in the NCAA Tournament.
As for Bowling Green, the Falcons barely squeaked into the NCAA Tournament after losing or drawing four of its last five matches heading into Selection Monday. Though the wheels have fallen off a bit in the latter half of Bowling Green's season, wins over FIU and Georgia State, and a draw against a red-hot Northern Illinois team was ultimately enough to get the Falcons into the postseason.
Looking at both potential opponents, if I'm IU I would much rather host Bowling Green than Louisville. While the Falcons certainly are worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid, the Cardinals have the advantage of familiarity, and, in my opinion, are a more talented side than Bowling Green. Louisville could cause IU problems, if the second round matchup comes to fruition.
Taking a glance at the rest of the NCAA Tournament field, a potential date with Saint Louis or Duke looms in the extremely far distance if the Hoosiers can make it to the Elite 8. At that point, IU would almost certainly be the visiting team, barring a Cinderella run to the Elite 8 from an unseeded team.
I am also a bit surprised that Penn State earned the No. 12 overall seed, given that the Nittany Lions finished eight spots lower than the Hoosiers in the RPI rankings and IU owns the better overall record. However, the committee does take into account how strong each team ended their seasons, and there is perhaps no hotter team in the nation currently than Penn State.
In an effort to not ramble on forever, I'll end this section with my prediction for Indiana in the NCAA Tournament:
- Second Round: Indiana defeats Louisville, 1-0
- Third Round: Washington defeats Indiana, 3-1
Sorry, reader, please do not crucify me!
Washington, in my opinion, is the strongest side in the nation, and the fact that IU would have to travel to Seattle for that matchup doesn't bode well. Crazier things have happened, though, and the Hoosiers should never be fully counted out.
Additional thoughts on Big Ten Tournament final loss
Indiana's loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament final was eerily reminiscent of its loss to Maryland in the regular season finale. Ironically, both matches had a title on the line, and both times the Hoosiers couldn't find a way to get over the hump.
Unlike in previous seasons where IU appeared to be the more poised and determined team from the opening whistle, Penn State brought a relentlessness that never truly subsided. And while I do think the Hoosiers played really well in the first 30 minutes or so and created several dangerous opportunities, the Nittany Lions were just a bit more polished in the attacking third and capitalized on key chances.
No moment sticks out bigger in my mind than midway through the first half when Patrick McDonald won a ball away from a Penn State defender due to heavy pressure. McDonald, who had an open look on net and just the goalkeeper to beat, instead passed on his chance and deferred to Herb Endeley on the other side of the box. Endeley, however, couldn't generate much power behind his shot using his weaker left foot.
Had Indiana been able to bury the aforementioned chance or even one of the several corner kick's awarded to them in the first half, then the match outcome likely would've been much different.
Nevertheless, where IU couldn't pounce, Penn State took full advantage -- and even used a little bit of luck.
If my eyes are correct, two of the Nittany Lions' three goals were essentially un-savable for Roman Celentano. Seth Kuhn's 36th-minute goal to open the scoring appeared to have deflected off Daniel Munie before misdirecting past Celentano. Tyger Evans' 56th-minute goal was also a result of poor backline play as Nyk Sessock simply gave up too much space to roam, and before Celentano could get set, the ball was already in the back of the net.
And once the second unanswered goal went through, IU's chances of a comeback seemed to quickly wither away in the second half.
Additionally, the absence of Joe Schmidt in the midfield became glaring as the match progressed. With as much pressure as Penn State was providing, the Hoosiers could've really used Schmidt's experience and physicality in the defensive third. Instead, Ben Yeagley and Patrick McDonald were charged with filling Schmidt's big shoes, and neither could seem to settle in against the Nittany Lions.
All in all it was another chance at a conference title squandered by the Hoosiers this season. Now, the focus lies solely on the quest for a ninth star.