Bloomington is gorgeous this time of year, isn’t it? From the cool, crisp air in the morning to the fresh foliage setting the stage for scenic strolls to class, it all comes together into one fall staple: the return of basketball.
We’re less than a month away from the start of the season, and with Indiana football putting on its best “Bad News Bears” impression, action on the hardwood couldn’t come at a better time.
While much of the fanfare surrounds Indiana men’s basketball head coach Mike Woodson’s team and its prized new recruits, Indiana women’s basketball has transformed into a force in the Big Ten and the nation after years of teetering around mediocrity.
[Related: Berger, Holmes earn Big Ten preseason honors, Indiana women’s basketball predicted top-3]
The only problem? The trio of Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, Aleksa Gulbe and Ali Patberg — a rock-solid core in the program — has concluded its playing days in Assembly Hall. The former two are now overseas playing professional ball and the latter has taken on a role in the Hoosiers’ coaching staff.
Despite returning fifth-year senior Grace Berger and true senior Mackenzie Holmes — the team’s top scorers and a pair of preseason All-Big Ten selections — it’s tough to manage lofty expectations after losing such integral pieces.
Regardless, let’s dive into some early predictions for the 2022-23 season:
Indiana wins the Big Ten
Bold? Sure. Out of the realm of possibility? Definitely not. We know the story of last season’s Big Ten tournament. A feisty, five-seeded Hoosier squad tore through its competition — knocking off Rutgers, Maryland and No. 1-seeded Ohio State — en route to the championship.
The loss to Iowa to cap off the tournament was far from demoralizing. The Hawkeyes were, and still are, an elite program with perhaps the best player in the country in sharpshooting junior guard Caitlin Clark. With an impressive March Madness run into the Sweet Sixteen, the Hoosiers fully introduced themselves on the national stage and joined the conversation of championship-contending teams.
Based on the aforementioned group of personnel departures, a Big Ten title might seem preposterous. but filling holes with transfers is the route head coach Teri Moren took. I, for one, am extremely optimistic about the newcomers.
Senior guard Sara Scalia, a Minnesota transfer and 41.3% three-point shooter, will be essential for the Hoosiers to emerge victorious in the conference. Indiana’s long-range shooting wasn’t quite a strength last season and Scalia and University of Oregon transfer junior guard Sydney Parrish should remedy that in spades.
Team MVP: Mackenzie Holmes
Hear me out. Averaging just the fifth-most minutes on the team last season, Holmes managed to finish as the second-leading scorer with 15.2 points per game and as the top shot blocker.
Despite a knee injury that lingered for the bulk of the season, she still dominated the defensive glass and scored at an efficient clip. Gobbling up space in the paint, even at half strength, Holmes’ contribution to the team’s floor-spacing was invaluable.
This doesn’t slight Berger by any means. It would be no shock to see her lead the team in points and ultimately prove this prediction moot in her fifth and final season. From a value standpoint, I give Holmes the slight edge due to her defensive presence and versatility. As a leader on and off the floor, I believe she will be the Hoosiers’ most important piece throughout the season.
Yarden Garzon becomes the Hoosiers’ next star
Freshman Yarden Garzon, an Israel native, has received plenty of praise from Moren and hype from fans this offseason. While the 6’3” guard likely won’t crack the starting lineup early this season, or maybe at all, she will be a fine option off the bench as a lengthy, versatile microwave scorer and tough defender.
Garzon has played against some of the top competition in Europe and averaged a near-double-double with 19.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game at the 2021 FIBA U20 European Challengers.
She might not take the world by storm this season, but I expect her to show flashes of stardom often and be a meaningful contributor. Maybe in a season or two, she will take over the team and become a truly elite talent.
Will the Hoosiers pull off the ultimate shock and win the program’s first National Championship? Maybe, but most likely not. Nonetheless, you can’t deny how intriguing this roster is and that they will remain highly competitive through a difficult schedule.
If Moren donning an Indiana football jersey and rolling into Hoosier Hysteria in the back of a Cadillac doesn’t excite you for the return of basketball, I don’t know what will.