When Indiana men’s basketball returned to the NCAA Tournament last season after a six-year absence, the Hoosiers got just a brief taste of the experience.
For all the buildup to this event, it doesn’t last long for most of its participants. Indiana wasn’t alone in having a relatively short stay in the tournament.
But IU went through a chaotic week with its First Four victory in Dayton, quickly flying to Portland and dealing with travel issues, and then playing in the round of 64 just two days later. That showed the Hoosiers what it takes to succeed in March Madness, and they’re carrying that with them as they head into this year’s tournament.
Indiana earned a No. 4 seed in the midwest region, and faces No. 13 seed Kent State in the first round on Friday in Albany, N.Y.
Senior forward Race Thompson remembers the expedited game preparation more than anything else from that March experience last year.
“The preparation, the mental focus that you have to have going into each game. It’s not like you have three or four days to prepare. You have almost a day and a half, and then you’ve got to go play,” Thompson said. “And then again after the games, it’s such a quick turnaround, you have to really take care of your body.”
Physically, IU should be better off now than it was last year. The Hoosiers played in three straight days in the 2022 Big Ten Tournament, then had to take on Wyoming just three days after that run ended.
While Indiana got to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals again this year, it came with one less game as IU receive a double-bye. And not only does IU get extra time by avoiding the First Four, it gets another day by not playing until Friday. That’s nearly a week between games.
IU head coach Mike Woodson recalled his team coming out sluggish against Saint Mary’s last year, which is how the game got away. More recovery time after the Big Ten Tournament this year should alleviate that issue.
“I think rest, coming off the Big Ten Tournament, gives us an opportunity to rest some legs and get everybody mentally focused on what the task is ahead of us,” Woodson said. “There’s a lot that goes into preparing for an NCAA Tournament game. The opposing team, they are doing all their prep work on us and we’ve just got to make sure that we’re in tune as a team when we step out on that floor Friday, that we are ready to go.’
Indiana could have a real shot to advance to the second weekend in this draw. The Golden Flashes are the top-ranked 13-seed in KenPom, so that game isn’t a guarantee by any means. But if IU advances, it’d get a matchup against KenPom’s lowest-ranked 5-seed in Miami or the third-lowest 12-seed in Drake. FiveThirtyEight gives IU a 47 percent chance of getting to the Sweet 16, the highest probability of any of the four teams in this mini-bracket.
But as Woodson and the Hoosiers relearned last season, it doesn’t take much within an NCAA Tournament game to swing those percentages another way.
Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis know it, as well. And for both players, this is one last ride with Indiana. Knowing that, and influenced by last season’s experience, Jackson-Davis is emphasizing accountability to his teammates.
“Everyone needs to hold each other accountable and everyone needs to be on the same page if we are going to make a run. You can’t have two guys doing it. It’s got to be a whole team thing. We win and lose as a team,” Jackson-Davis said. “It’s going to take everyone, Xavier (Johnson) on the bench, coaches, everyone, all the way down the line.”
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”