Indiana is grateful, excited and confident heading into NCAA tournament

  • 03/18/2024 8:06 am in

Indiana spent the week after its loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals in a state of limbo. Forced to wait out the results of other games and tournaments around the country, Indiana could only take it day by day and hold its breath until Selection Sunday to discover its fate in the 2024 NCAA tournament.

However, the Hoosiers didn’t have to hold their breath for too long Sunday night, as they were named the first No. 4 seed of the night in Regional 1 in Albany. Of course, the question wasn’t whether or not the Hoosiers would be in the tournament — it was whether they would get to play again in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Now, they know they will, and that means everything to them.

“We’ve been anticipating, we’ve been really eager for this night,” Teri Moren said after the selection show. “Any time that you have the opportunity to play at home in front of your home fans, we’re not just excited but really grateful that it worked out the way we wanted it to.”

With their seeding and opponents entirely out of their control, the Hoosiers focused on what they could control this past week. They took time to rest and recover from the grueling end of the regular season and Big Ten tournament, which left multiple players “dinged up.” Mackenzie Holmes had time to regain her confidence after sustaining a knee injury in the final game of the regular season and only playing five minutes in Indiana’s loss to Michigan.

“Each day I think I’m feeling more and more confident on it,” Holmes said about her knee, the same one that kept the forward from being fully healthy in last season’s NCAA Tournament. “This week has been great for that on the aspect of the recovery of my knee.”

Last year, Holmes was limited in her abilities in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. She didn’t play in Indiana’s first-round matchup against Tennessee Tech. She was not at full capacity for Indiana’s next game against the University of Miami, where a loss knocked Indiana out of the tournament. That loss at Assembly Hall has been one that’s motivated the Hoosiers throughout the offseason and the entire 2023-24 season and is one they surely will do anything not to relive.

Part of that starts with Holmes, who is in a much better place right now than she was this time last year.

“I would say I’m feeling much different than I was last March versus this March,” Holmes said. “Now I’m in practices doing pretty much everything, so I’m feeling a lot better this March than I was last March which is a really great thing for me.”

Another great thing for Holmes? Getting to play at least one more game in Assembly Hall.

“I don’t like the way I left things on Senior Night, obviously, going out with an injury is not ideal,” Holmes said. “I’m really excited to get a chance this week to play a couple more times at Assembly Hall.”

Moren said practices this week have been shortened and limited — while still competitive — as the Hoosiers know what lies ahead. They didn’t want to risk any injuries and didn’t know who they would be playing.

“The staff’s done a great job of keeping in mind our injuries and things like that, and saving as much as they can,” Chloe Moore-McNeil said. “I think being on the court practicing this past week has been pretty fun and relaxed vibes before things get real.”

This will get real for Indiana the very first time the team steps into the gym this week for practice. The Hoosiers will begin preparing for their first opponent, No. 13 seed Fairfield, while also keeping in mind that, with a win, they will play either No. 5 seed Oklahoma or No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast.

All three teams pose unique challenges. Fairfield, the 2024 MAAC Champion, is riding a 29-game winning streak and is 31-1 on the season but doesn’t necessarily have any big wins over big schools. Oklahoma lost in the semifinal round of the Big 12 tournament but beat Kansas State once and swept Texas — who earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament — in the regular season. FGCU, like Fairfield, won the ASUN Tournament, is on a 22-game winning streak, and beat North Carolina at the beginning of the season.

It’s March, and anything can happen. The Hoosiers know that as well as anyone and must play their best basketball. Everything needs to come together, from post-play to guard play to being prepared for challenges and having the right mindset. The Hoosiers believe all of those things are set to work in their favor.

“This group is really confident not only in each other, but the fact that we have great balance,” Moren said. “This is a team that’s competitive, it’s a team that’s connected, it’s a team that’s mature (and) experienced.”

Indiana isn’t naive to the fact that no matter who its opponent is or what round it is, there will be challenges. But Indiana has faced its fair share of challenges throughout the season in injuries and difficult losses, and it hasn’t deterred them. With the chance to play in Assembly Hall again — and rid that second-round loss to Miami from everyone’s minds — there’s no reason to think the Hoosiers intend to let anything stop them now.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

Filed to: