Once the Hoosiers are finished with their annual tradition of "Tudor Room Turkey," the focus will immediately turn to the round of 16 in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
It may have been the conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table anyway, but the Round of 16 hasn’t been kind to IU in past years. In the previous four seasons, IU has not been able to move past the third round.
But 2017 has been a season that has bucked the trends of previous seasons.
The infusion of young and old players in the IU squad has created a sense of forgetfulness about previous seasons. The older players may use it as motivation while the younger players want to create their own path.
As IU gets set to take on the New Hampshire Wildcats at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Bill Armstrong Stadium, the Hoosiers will look to get through to the round of eight for the first time since 2012.
“Our team is a lot better than we were early September," IU Coach Todd Yeagley said. “I love the youthful and the experience in our team, it’s a nice balance.”
The second round of the NCAA Tournament — the first round in which seeded teams played — was one that saw a lot of upsets. Of the top 16 seeds, seven of them were eliminated while other top seeds were pushed to the wire by unranked foes.
As for the Hoosiers, they went about their business without much worry with a 3-0 win over Old Dominion.
When New Hampshire comes to town fresh off its upset of the No. 15-seeded Dartmouth Big Green, IU will hope it can keep things rolling. With freshman attacker Mason Toye scoring his first goal in four matches last Sunday, the Hoosiers will be leaning on him to keep it going.
“He’s a phenomenal player, he keeps proving it game after game,” senior defender Grant Lillard said. “He’s going to do big things moving forward for us in this tournament.”
The Wildcats didn’t score against Dartmouth, but they were clinical in their penalty shootout against the Big Green. New Hampshire faced five NCAA Tournament teams during the regular season and posted a record of 4-0-1 in those matches. Of those five teams New Hampshire played, four of them at least reached the second round.
The Wildcats — ranked 20th in the latest RPI rankings — will be reliant upon fifth-year senior forward Robin Schmidt, who has scored eight goals on the season. New Hampshire averages just under a goal and a half per game and will have their work cut out against an IU defense that hasn’t given up a goal through the run of play since Oct. 21 against Wisconsin.
“The fact we’ve been able to get 17 (shutouts) of them now speaks to our team defending,” Lillard said. “It’s been phenomenal all year long and when we get a shutout we normally win.”
Yeagley said after the game against Old Dominion that the seniors could be playing in their last game, which could make them anxious. Yeagley said he thinks that the youthful aspect balances that out a bit.
As the Hoosiers set to take the field with elimination on the line, they will look to their captain in Lillard to lead the way, as he has all season long.
“Grant brings a lot to our team and we know when it comes to big moments," Yeagley said. "Game day, he has a different edge to him. He really wants to make a deep run in this.”
Zain Pyarali contributed to this article.
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