It took penalty kicks, but No. 3 IU advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 with a victory over St. Francis College Sunday night. The Hoosiers will now face the Marquette University Golden Eagles at 6 p.m. Thursday in Cary, North Carolina, with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
Although the IU coaching staff built their usual gameplan, head coach Todd Yeagley said Wednesday he doesn’t want to stress his team out by over-analyzing their opponent.
“We show them where their strengths are, where we can get some success and then let them feel the game,” Yeagley said.
Here are a few themes to remember for Thursday night.
Maher’s return reconnects the back line
In IU’s victory over Penn State in the Big Ten Championship on April 17, freshman defender Joey Maher received a red card in the 82nd minute. Although it might have been a strategic takedown to stop a breakaway, Maher was disqualified from the St. Francis Brooklyn match.
With his return, the Hoosiers get their starting defensive back and All-Big Ten Freshman team member back. Especially with senior defender Spencer Glass’ season-ending injury, reestablishing some continuity in the back line is necessary.
As was the case all season, Yeagley believes the defense will be the catalyst for a postseason run.
“You can win some games by getting a couple breaks here and there but you have to be good defensively to go deep,” Yeagley said.
The back line will be tested against Marquette. Golden Eagles junior forward Lukas Sunesson has been dangerous all year, leading his team with 11 goals and 22 points this season.
Although the team’s focus is obviously on the pitch, Yeagley credits Director of Operations Phalo Pietersen and the senior class for keeping the group loose off the field.
The group spent part of Monday at a beach in Wilmington, North Carolina, and have kept their minds fresh by playing card games and board games during down time. Especially since the players cannot eat at restaurants and walk around like previous years, the mental aspect has been a focal point.
“You have to keep them really, really enjoying it outside of the work we do in between the training that we do,” Yeagley said.
Bezerra as a two-way threat
IU’s offense, led by sophomore forward Victor Bezerra, has been equally as impressive as its prominent defense. The Big Ten Offensive Player of the year tallied 12 goals this season, eight more than any other Hoosier.
Although he has created numerous chances on his own, Yeagley said his teammates have recognized and exploited positions where he is most dangerous.
“Our team is getting even better at finding him where he’s best,” Yeagley said.
As the season has progressed, so has Bezerra’s passing ability. If Marquette hones in on Bezerra, which Yeagley said he expects all teams will, he has confidence in others including sophomore forwards Ryan Wittenbrink and Herbert Endeley to strike.
“If you overplay Victor, we can find some other players have success and Victor understands that,” Yeagley said.