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'We’ve got a lot of ball left': Despite devastating loss to Iowa, a promising NCAA Tournament looms for Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — Connor McCaffery dribbles up the court and holds the ball. Then Iowa sets an exit screen in the left corner for Jordan Bohannon, but Indiana shuts it down. Iowa’s Tony Perkins flares to the right wing, but Xavier Johnson denies him the ball. Then McCaffery tosses the ball to Bohannon, who dribbles a few feet in front of the Big Ten logo and fires. 

Bohannon banks it home. 

A perfectly-defended possession ended with a 30-foot bank shot that sent Iowa to the Big Ten Championship game and Indiana back to Bloomington.

But this week was a success for Indiana. The Hoosiers arrived in Indianapolis not knowing if they’d make the NCAA Tournament. They leave with two Quad 1 victories and high confidence in what they will do in the NCAA Tournament.

The story of this week was the superb play of Trayce Jackson-Davis. His Big Ten Tournament ended with him averaging 25.3 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. His 76 total points and 25 total rebounds are the most in a Big Ten Tournament in Indiana history. Jackson-Davis was excellent against a pair of 7-footers to start the week and on Saturday, he tortured Iowa’s undersized lineups.

It’s been well-documented that Xavier Johnson has been playing his best basketball of the year for the Hoosiers. Johnson averaged 16.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game for IU this week. His two-way play has been crucial for Indiana recently. Johnson has harassed other point guards at the point of attack and controlled the tempo of the game offensively. 

Indiana is not a team that anyone is going to want to face in the NCAA Tournament. The main reason for that is IU’s defense. The Hoosiers guard extremely well (even though sometimes the ball goes in). 

IU will be challenging to navigate for an offense that hasn’t faced the point-of-attack defense of Johnson and Rob Phinisee, the rim protection of Jackson-Davis or the overall defensive versatility of Race Thompson. The Hoosiers gave Michigan and Illinois fits early in the week. 

On Saturday, 32 of Iowa’s 61 field goal attempts were 3s. When they make 14 3s (43.8 percent), it’s nearly impossible to beat them. Yet had the Hawkeyes made one less 3, there would have been an extra five minutes of basketball, with Indiana having the momentum.

Indiana has played five straight competitive games with at least three NCAA Tournament teams and two teams (Rutgers and Michigan) who will either be in the NCAA Tournament or host NIT games. You won’t find many teams who head into the NCAA Tournament having played this many tight games against quality opponents in the past few weeks.

After the game, Jackson-Davis showed a high amount of confidence in what Indiana can do going forward.

“I don’t think anyone wants to see us right now,” Jackson-Davis claimed. “It took a last-second 3 to beat us to the hottest team in the Big Ten right now. It stings but at the same time, I feel like we’ve got a lot of ball left.”

Of course, the matchup that Indiana draws will matter. IU probably doesn’t want to draw a team that has a great defensive big man. As well as Jackson-Davis has played recently, the Hoosiers would much rather have him face a team like Iowa that doesn’t have an interior defensive force.

A team that plays at a slow pace is also not ideal for Indiana. The Hoosiers are best when they can play in transition and run. Going against a team that averages 18 to 19 seconds per offensive possession could knock Indiana out of its rhythm. 

Once again, IU’s defense won’t be easy to score on for some random opponent and the Hoosiers are very battle-tested, for better or for worse. Not to mention that when Phinisee and Trey Galloway both play, Indiana is 10-3 with wins over Ohio State, Purdue and Illinois. 

This season has been all over the place for Indiana and the program is still nowhere near being great. This week shows that IU can be competitive with a lot of tournament teams and that a lot of tournament teams probably don’t want to face the Hoosiers. Sunday night's Selection Show will reveal who Indiana has to face — or who has to face Indiana.

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