The month of March is upon us. Tournament season is here and expectations are high for this year's Big Ten champion. Indiana basketball is one of the top four teams heading into the tournament, earning its first-ever 1-seed ranking this past Selection Sunday. The Hoosiers are set to face Tennessee Tech for their first-round matchup at 11:30 a.m. Eastern on Saturday in Bloomington.
Indiana is coming off a historic and troubling loss. The Hoosiers were the top-ranked team in this year's Big Ten tournament but they suffered a semi-final loss to Ohio State. The final score was 79-75, but it will go down as the largest comeback in Big Ten tournament history as the Buckeyes came back from a 24-point deficit.
In that time, the Hoosiers have been on campus getting ready for their first opponent but because of the early exit and the nine days off since their last game, head coach Teri Moren has said that this has been an interesting time preparing her team.
“We've never been in this scenario,” Moren said. “We’re watching a play-in game and now you only have really one day to prep… We have all week been spreading out the workloads from our staff in terms of covering all the teams we were playing. Our kids weren't here last night but they were watching on TV, our staff was certainly here. This is a hot team right now. They're not to be taken lightly.”
If Indiana continues its regular-season dominance, Indiana’s path to this year's Final Four looks to be in reach but the Hoosiers would have to come across several high-talent teams.
In the second round, Indiana can face either Oklahoma State or Miami (FL). If the Cowboys come into town, it can pose one of the best storylines of the entire year. Yarden Garzon has been a standout freshman for the Hoosiers this season and she could face her older sister in her first NCAA tournament. Lior Garzon is a junior forward for Oklahoma State averaging 10.9 points per game while playing in all 32 games this season.
If the Hurricanes advance, IU will have to face the 6-seed in this year's ACC tournament. The ACC as a whole is one of the most consistent conferences in women's basketball this year, sending the most teams to the tournament out of any conference with eight.
Other notable names in Indiana’s region are Michigan and Villanova. The Hoosiers played the Wolverines twice this year in conference play and took care of them pretty handily both times. They won the first game 92-83 and the second game 68-52.
As for Villanova, a matchup against them would be interesting as two All-Americans would face off in the Sweet Sixteen. Both Maddy Siegrist and Mackenzie Holmes were named first-team All-Americans this past week. Not only do both players lead their teams in points per game but they are top 10 in points per game in the entire country.
The two highest-touted names in Indiana’s region are LSU and Utah.
Utah was a top-10 team the entire year. They won a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and finished with their best record since 2000. The Utes walk into March with a player-of-the-year candidate in junior forward Alissa Pili, a coach-of-the-year candidate in Lynne Roberts, and the fourth-best scoring offense in the country.
LSU also marked its name as one of the best teams this year in college basketball. The Tigers remained undefeated and top five in the polls for the majority of the year and were ranked as high as No. 3 this season. Angel Reese leads the team as a young rising star, averaging 23.4 points per game while also being named a first-team All-American and Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year semi-finalist. The former three-time national champion head coach Kim Mulkey has also had a stellar season with the Tigers being named a semifinalist for the Werner Ladder Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year award.
Regardless of the teams in the region, Indiana has to get past its first opponent.
The Hoosiers' match-up was set late Thursday night as Tennessee Tech defeated Monmouth 79-69. The Golden Eagles are catching fire at the right time, having won eight straight with only two losses since the end of January, and are coming off an Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship.
Three-point shooting is what guided Tennessee Tech to the win, having finished the game near 50%, ending their night 12-for-26 from behind the arc. Four different players had double-digit points against the Hawks with Jada Guinn and Maaliya Owens both leading with 18. This is the first NCAA tournament victory for Tennessee Tech since 1990 and the Golden Eagles are going into the tournament playing some of their best basketball.
Indiana has been dominant all year but Moren knows that when it comes to March all of that gets thrown out the window. The Hoosiers have to remember who they are and keep their head level.
“In my opinion, seeds are thrown out at this time of year,” Moren said. "You look around, watch TV and you find out quickly whether you're watching men's or women's basketball that seeds don't matter at this time of the year…We're still the blue-collar team, the program that has continued to seek and search for respect. The reason why we're here is because of what we've been able to do that nobody sees, right, and that's the work.”
This will be the fourth meeting ever between both programs — Tennessee Tech has won three of those, but the most recent meeting was an IU win in 1998. The Hoosiers and the Golden Eagles will tip off at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.