Three Takeaways From IUWBB's 84-35 Victory Over Bowling Green
The Indiana Women's Basketball Team Improved To 10-1 Heading Into Big Ten Play With A Victory Over The Falcons
Assembly Hall Where Indiana Indiana Played Bowling Green Friday
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Are Hoosiers Ready For Big Ten Play?
IU closed out the non-conference schedule with another dominating victory by defeating Bowling Green 84-35 on Friday night. While the Falcons could easily win their league (the same goes for Murray State and Lipscomb who the Cream and Crimson easily defeated in November), outside of three games, the Hoosiers have not been tested against top competition yet.
That will change when Indiana opens Big Ten play on New Year’s Eve at home against Illinois in a much deeper league than in the past. While there is every reason to believe IU will challenge for another Big Ten title, the proof will be in the pudding going forward.
With just a trio of contests (a blowout loss to Stanford and neutral site triumphs over Tennessee and Princeton) highlighting a simpler non-conference than usual to mixed results, the Hoosiers are less battle-tested than in recent seasons at this point. That will not be the case going forward in a less forgiving league than in the past. Generally, the Big Ten has been top-heavy with the bottom half struggling. While the number of elite squads appears to be smaller than in the past with just Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio State being national contenders, the middle is far stronger. Realistically, every league team besides Northwestern, Rutgers, and Wisconsin could contend for a bid to the NCAA Tournament (though not all others will be invited).
IU coach Teri Moren has preached that every conference game is a grind. The reality is though that around half the time, the Hoosiers could show up at less than their best and be relatively confident they would still come out on top in past seasons. This will not be the case in 2024 when only a couple of dates with the Wildcats and a game in Madison will be close to sure things. Squads like Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Penn State have drastically improved and anything less than Indiana’s best could end poorly against these squads. While the Big Ten has struggled in top matchups so far, everyone has managed to keep their metrics very high by demolishing mid-major competition by huge margins (see Indiana tonight as an example) which presents great opportunities for every squad moving forward to get quality wins.
Of course with all that said, the question is not whether IU will receive an invite to March Madness which is a lock, but whether they can win the league and host the beginning of the NCAA Tournament again. With a solid but unspectacular NET in the 20s, the Hoosiers will have plenty of opportunities to improve that number with 10 league teams in the top 75 and 12 in the top 100. While this gives plenty of opportunities to boost the resume, it also means more landmines in the conference going forward.
Moren said the Big Ten is indeed much deeper than in the past.
“The target is clearly on our back still and it’s not going to be easy,” Moren said. “This is a great league and everybody at the bottom has improved and gotten better.”
Three-Point Shooting And Defense Are Key For Hoosiers To Win Another Big Ten Title
Certain aspects of the game are a given for the Hoosiers. The elite play of Mackenzie Holmes inside is one of these as is a relatively low number of turnovers the team commits generally.
What will determine the Hoosiers ceiling though is their play on defense and ability to make outside shots. On Friday, the Hoosiers hit 14-25 from long range and gave up only 35 points. This was led by Sara Scalia who hit eight triples and scored 32 points while defending at a high level.
With conference play and tougher competition looming, both of these numbers need to remain strong for the team in Big Ten play. While the ability to guard others often travels and is more of a certainty, making shots is especially important on the road. This is where the Hoosiers have struggled in three contests so far when competing in hostile territory. With half of league play on the road, it is imperative the shooting improves in opponent’s gyms to match what it has been in Assembly Hall and down in Florida for their holiday tournament.
Scalia said the ability to see shots go down early is key for a performance like this and going forward.
“The big thing is getting in the rhythm of the game early on in the game,” Scalia said. “I saw my first few go down and it kept me going.”
Health And Attrition Are Key In Basketball
While a really unfortunate scene early in the game likely did not affect the outcome, it serves as a reminder to the Hoosiers how a season can potentially take a turn for the worst on a whim. This is because BGSU leading scorer Lexi Fleming had her left knee buckle at the beginning of the game and was carried off as she could put no weight on it. This comes after Fleming had a knee injury on her right leg two years ago and still sports a large knee brace on it.
The entire arena was silent after the injury occurred and it serves as a reminder that one moment can drastically change the outlook of a season. IU has been the victim of this after Holmes missed a large chunk of conference play a couple of seasons ago with a knee problem and continues to wear a brace on her left knee to this day when on the court. While it is not affecting Holmes’ ability to perform on the court, losing her or any other front liners would take Indiana down several notches from title contender to middling NCAA Tourney squad.
Already Nittany Lion stars Makenna Marisa and Ashley Owusu are out for an undetermined amount of time with injuries. Outside of the Big Ten, standouts Rickea Jackson and Azzi Fudd of Tennessee and UConn are down with ailments. This has pushed these legendary squads much lower in the national pecking order than normal.
One can reasonably assume Indiana, Iowa, or Ohio State will raise the league trophies. How they and other conference foes finish though, may be determined by health which is outside of anyone’s control.
Moren did begin the Friday presser with addressing the moment Fleming went down underscoring the potential seriousness of the injury.
“I want to give our thoughts and our prayers to Lexi Fleming,” she said. “She is a terrific talent and you never want to see anything like that happen. I think it shook all of us for a minute.”