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Tuesday, April 16
The Indiana Daily Student

sports women's basketball

COLUMN: Why the Iowa game dictates Indiana women’s basketball's postseason fate

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On Feb. 19, Indiana women’s basketball fell to the Illinois Fighting Illini at the State Farm Center, 86-66.  

The Illini finally put together a win after only coming close to toppling the Hoosiers the past couple of seasons — including a highly contested matchup Dec. 31 where Indiana won 77-71. 

This is no secret to anyone that follows the Hoosiers closely— there have been some high highs and head scratching lows.  

In a very top-heavy sport, the No. 14 Hoosiers (21-4, 12-3 Big Ten) are in the upper middle. With the advantages of having a top-16 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament — such as hosting the first two tournament games — the Hoosiers can easily get past their disappointing season finish a year ago, which ended with a round of 32 loss to the University of Miami Hurricanes.  

But with little-to-no breathing room stemming from its four losses up to this point, Indiana’s prospective chances of hosting tournament games could be saved with a win against the No. 4 Hawkeyes. 

To be fair, the Hoosiers have four wins against top-40 teams in the NCAA women’s basketball NET rankings — a neutral-site victory against the University of Tennessee (No. 38) on Nov. 23, road triumphs over Maryland (NET No. 31) on Jan. 31 and Nebraska (NET No. 30) on Jan. 7 and a home track meet of a win against Michigan State (NET No. 21) on Feb. 8.  

Now, three of Indiana’s four losses have come to opponents who currently rank in the top 10 of the NET: Stanford University (No. 2 in the NET) on Nov. 12, Iowa (No. 5 in the NET) on Jan. 13 and Ohio State (No. 8 in the NET) on Feb. 4.  

While these losses are to teams of high standard, they aren’t necessarily quality losses, due to the horrific average defeat margin of 21.3 points in those three matchups. 

Whether it was the size difference in Palo Alto, the scoring overload in Iowa City, the overflow of turnovers in Columbus, or the lack of defensive identity in Champaign, the few mistakes the Hoosiers have made are detrimental to their resume. 

Last season, the Hoosiers had a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance and only three losses before the confirmation of the top four seed. Those losses, which came to Michigan State and Iowa in the regular season and Ohio State in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament, averaged out to 3 points per defeat, a lot more telling of the strength of the 2022-23 Hoosiers. 

The recipe for success for Indiana on Thursday: keep the Iowa guards in check on defense.  

Caitlin Clark will get her fill of points — Hoosiers’ head coach Teri Moren knows that and talked about it before the first matchup — but the rest of Iowa’s guards caused Indiana’s defensive inefficiency in the first meeting. 

The issue for Indiana against Illinois was the Illini’s movement and speed in the front court. Iowa will feature a lot of the same with starting senior guards Molly Davis, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall. The three totaled 40 points in the first matchup and combined with Clark’s 30 points to tally 13 more points than the Hoosiers' game total.  

Expect Clark to go for 25-plus points, but the determining factor will be the Hoosiers’ defense on the Hawkeyes’ supporting cast. Davis, Martin and Marshall cannot tally eight total makes from beyond the arc, or the result from the first matchup will replicate. 

With a loss, Indiana will be a victim to its expectations. Once again, the victim to the greatest women’s college basketball player of all time. 

A win Thursday can change not only the postseason fate of the 2023-24 Hoosiers, but the narrative that is currently not kind to the cream and crimson.  

The tide will change, the signature will be written on the receipt for this season and this game will be highlighted in the grand outlook of this season. This can and will be the Hoosiers best chance at re-igniting the fire that will guide the way to postseason success. 

Follow reporters Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and Quinn Richards (@Quinn_richa), columnist Ryan Canfield (@_ryancanfield) and photographer Olivia Bianco (@theoliviabianco) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.

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