It’s been quite a run for the Indiana Hoosiers over the last year. At various times, Indiana has swung between an easy pick for the 2022 NCAA Tournament and a disaster worthy of rethinking the Mike Woodson era in Bloomington. There’s been no telling where things could end up, even on a weekly basis.
The good news for fans is that the program found its way into the NCAA Tournament last Sunday, earning a bid for the first time since 2016. It was a welcome break for the fan base and star players like Trayce Jackson-Davis. Indiana landed as one of the last teams in the field and will play Wyoming on Tuesday in a First Four matchup for a 12 seed in the Round of 64.
But what can Indiana do with the bid? Can the Hoosiers make some noise in March Madness? Let’s take a look at the bracket and what to expect.
As a member of the First Four, Indiana has its work cut out. Unlike 60 of the 68 teams in the field, Indiana won’t get a full five or six days to relish in its accomplishments. The Hoosiers will have to jump right into the deep end, tipping off on Tuesday night against Wyoming.
And the matchup itself won’t be easy.
Wyoming enters the postseason with an impressive 25-8 overall record, including nine wins over top 100 teams and two wins over teams ranked above Indiana (currently 36th) on KenPom. Wyoming also has two of the better mid-major players you’ll see nationally in Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado. They dominate the team’s offensive usage, but the production is there. Both players know how to get the job done.
If Indiana is going to win this game, it’s going to have to be led by the team’s defense. The Hoosiers rode their defense to the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals and that’s going to have to be the story here as well. Stylistically, Wyoming relies extensively on its interior game and the two players noted above. That’s a good and bad thing. It’s great because it generally works, but it limits the team’s change ups when things aren’t working. If Indiana can force other players to carry the load instead of Ike and Maldonado, it might be able to capitalize. We’ll have to wait and see if the Hoosiers can follow that through to victory.
If They Advance
Should Indiana beat Wyoming and move into the Round of 64, the team would face off against Saint Mary’s. The Gaels enter the postseason at 25-7 overall and are coming off an incredible January and February, highlighted by an upset win over Gonzaga to close the regular season on February 26th.
Like Indiana, Saint Mary’s relies on its defense. However, the Gaels boast a top 10 unit that’s held up well, even against high end opponents. Saint Mary’s is also fantastic on the boards, which should put a ton of pressure on Jackson-Davis on both sides of the court. Indiana’s best chance likely relies on making it a low scoring affair where a few shots can lead either side to victory. Either way, there’s no denying this looks like a tough matchup on paper.
After that, Indiana would be looking at UCLA or Akron over the weekend. The Bruins are obviously the opponent that looks more challenging. UCLA made last year’s Final Four and have much of the same cast this year as well. Johnny Juzang is the team’s best player and would pose some major matchup challenges for the Hoosiers. It would be up to Miller Kopp and Race Thompson to slow him down.
Should Indiana win all three games and advance to the Sweet 16, Indiana would be looking at a matchup against Baylor, North Carolina, or Marquette. The Bears won last year’s national championship, but are a little banged up as of late. North Carolina and Marquette look significantly weaker than Baylor. However, both have strengths as well. North Carolina has plenty of talent and Marquette plays a unique style that could pose matchup problems. Indiana would certainly be an underdog against Baylor, though it could actually be favored against the other two.
If the Hoosiers were fortunate enough to move on from there, they would be looking at a matchup against someone like Kentucky, Purdue, or Texas. And a potential Final Four would come against someone like Gonzaga or Duke. Arizona and Kansas would be the favorites for potential national championship opponents.
Anytime you’re a First Four team, expectations for the Tournament aren’t going to be exceptionally high. Even if you like a team in Indiana’s position, you’re talking about a challenging matchup on Tuesday, a quick turnaround with travel for a game on Thursday, and then another tough game on Saturday to even get past the first weekend. And that doesn’t even mention that First Four teams are generally underdogs when they get to the Round of 64. It’s just not a situation where you can realistically expect a ton.
With that said, Indiana will be favored against Wyoming and Saint Mary’s isn’t exactly an unbeatable foe. It’s also worth mentioning that a multitude of First Four teams have found their way past the Round of 64 since the field expanded to 68 teams. After all, just look at UCLA last year. The Bruins were universally panned coming into the postseason and landing in the First Four. However, UCLA turned that into a Final Four bid and a program renaissance. Whether Indiana can repeat that remains to be seen, but a path is there. We’ll have to wait and see if the Hoosiers can get it done.