The last two seasons for IU women’s basketball have gone as such: a WNIT championship and a second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Now, those Hoosier teams were good, really good in fact. The good news for fans and students though is that those teams have nothing on this year's team.
Head coach Teri Moren has No. 14 IU off to a fiery start, sitting at 7-1 after its most recent win over No. 21 University of Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. That 58-45 win was the third ranked matchup out of their last four.
Over Thanksgiving break, the women headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam where they faced then No. 5 University of South Carolina, No. 2 Baylor University and Washington State University. IU came in ranked 17th, already its highest ranking in program history.
Now, I’ll be honest, I thought IU would return stateside with just one win over Washington State, but this team proved me, and a whole lot of other people, wrong.
IU upset South Carolina, who won the national championship two years ago, on the first day of the tournament. That win marked its first win against a nonconference top-five team in program history. And while it lost to Baylor, the defending champs, it competed for all but the last four minutes. This team is good. It’s showing that it can compete with the best teams in the country.
I think the most impressive part is IU has beaten two ranked teams without one of its best players, junior guard Bendu Yeaney, who’s still recovering from an ACL injury. IU also downed Miami without its leading scorer, sophomore guard Grace Berger, and sophomore forward Aleksa Gulbe who started every previous game. That kind of depth is why the Hoosiers have been so successful, and when everyone’s healthy, this team will be even scarier.
The Hoosiers have been feasting on lesser opponents and competing with better ones, which is exactly what good teams should do.
The two ranked wins come after a scorching hot start to the season, where IU demolished its first four opponents by a combined 151 points. In its game against Nicholls State University, IU scored its second most points ever in a game and had its second-largest margin of victory in program history. The Hoosiers have rode that momentum through the Paradise Jam and the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, showing their hot start was no fluke.
After the Paradise Jam, IU moved up in the AP Poll for the fourth consecutive week, claiming the No. 14 spot. I’d expect the Hoosiers to keep on moving up in the poll, assuming they don’t get upset at home by the University of North Florida on Saturday.
The Hoosiers have already endured one of their toughest stretches of the season and came out strong. Three neutral site games, two being against top five teams, and a road game against another top 25 team is no easy task, but Moren’s squad has rolled with the punches and knocked off two ranked teams. There’s a reason this team was picked to finish third in the Big Ten.
IU’s upcoming schedule is very manageable, with three unranked nonconference opponents on the ledger before current No. 11 University of California, Los Angeles, and No. 20 Michigan State come to Bloomington. After that, there are only two more ranked teams on the schedule.
The path is there for IU to receive a bye in the Big Ten Tournament and to be highly seeded in the NCAA Tournament come March. Once everyone is healthy, this is easily a top-three team in the Big Ten, maybe even No. 1.
There’s a reason IU has been so good. It’s a combination of great coaching and players that have bought into the program. Watching this team play is truly something special. It’s great team basketball, with lots of passing to find the open shooter.
There is no selfishness to be found. Everyone is doing whatever it takes to win, and so far it has shown. That’s the kind of play that wins championships.
It’s too early to tell where this team will end up at the end of the season, but their play so far indicates this team has the potential to be one of the best.
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