Indiana women’s basketball wrapped up the greatest season in program history with a loss to the University of Arizona in the Elite Eight.
It was the Hoosiers’ first Elite Eight appearance in program history, and they’re hungry for more.
The good news for Indiana fans? Every member of the Hoosiers’ starting five in that game elected to return, including graduate student guard Ali Patberg, whose college basketball career has now spanned three United States presidencies.
Here are some of my takes on how the season could turn out:
Most valuable player: Grace Berger
Indiana can credit a lot of its prowess on offense to senior guard Grace Berger, who found open teammates with precise passing or dealt the damage herself.
Berger led Indiana with assists last season with 124, 25 more than second-place Patberg. She was also more than capable of taking the ball to the basket herself, scoring the team’s second most points per game with 15.4. What if shots don’t fall? Berger is there too, hauling in the team’s third most rebounds per game with 6.8.
Put all of that together and you have a well-rounded offensive threat who, by the way, led the nation in triple doubles with three. Berger kept the offense flowing in her 27 consecutive starts last season, and is poised to do the same this year.
Breakout player of the year: Aleksa Gulbe
Indiana has its dominant guard duo in Berger and Patberg, but could use a more consistent second forward to take some of the load off of junior Mackenzie Holmes. I’d say “Enter senior forward Aleksa Gulbe,” but that'd be a disservice to the resume she’s already built up.
Gulbe has started and contributed to the team since her sophomore year, but I expect her to contribute more as a scorer alongside Holmes, the team’s leader in points scored last season. Last season, she upped her rebounds per game from 5.5 to 6.9, so it’s not out of the question to see her scoring ability take a leap as well.
Right now, Holmes is Batman. There are players who can serve as Robin, but Indiana’s offense would benefit significantly if someone like Gulbe can be a Superman.
Newcomer of the year: Mona Zaric
Speaking of forwards who can contribute, look no further than freshman Mona Zaric. Indiana has a few impressive freshmen guards, but it’s hard to imagine them getting significant minutes this season behind Berger, Patberg and senior Nicole Cardaño-Hillary.
Zaric has better odds of seeing some time, and has a past you can’t overlook. Zaric has been named the U16 and U18 Cypriot League MVP four times, and averaged 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists with Keravnos B.C. and Sistema Rosa Pordenone in Europe.
When older forwards like Holmes, Gulbe and sophomore Kiandra Browne need some rest, look for Zaric to check in.
Game to watch
Sophomore guard Caitlin Clark and her Iowa Hawkeyes will visit Assembly Hall on Feb. 20 during Indiana’s Senior Night. Iowa is ranked just below Indiana at No. 9 in the preseason AP Poll.
Clark was a first-team All-American last season when Iowa fell to Indiana in both matchups between the two. Expect an improved Iowa team to try to play the spoiler in a potential shootout in Indiana’s final home game of the season.
With all of its returning production and the success head coach Teri Moren has enjoyed, I fully expect Indiana to run it back this season.
I see Indiana finishing at 25-4, with potential losses coming against Stanford University, Maryland, Iowa and a close one to North Carolina State University.