Don’t be fooled by the name on the front of the jersey, Indiana is in for a big test on Tuesday in Dayton (9:10 p.m. Eastern, truTV).
Wyoming (25-8) is No. 58 in the nation according to KenPom.com, and that outlet likes No. 36 Indiana to win by just one point, 67-66. Vegas has the Hoosiers as a 4-point favorite.
The Cowboys rank No. 54 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which puts them in the range of Wisconsin (No. 49) to Maryland (No. 66) in Big Ten terms. Defensively Wyoming is No. 66, which places them in between Michigan State (No. 53) and Northwestern (No. 68).
From a tempo standpoint, expect methodical offense. Wyoming ranks No. 299 in offensive possession length. That is actually slower than Wisconsin (No. 240). Wyoming’s defensive possessions are more middle-of-the-pack at No. 177.
Wyoming’s offense runs through a pair of players — 6-foot-7 senior Hunter Maldonado (18.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg), and 6-foot-9 sophomore Graham Ike (19.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg).
Maldonado is actually a very tall point guard (or point-forward if you prefer) who can score inside and out, and is a very good passer. He shoots 55.7 percent from 2-point range and has attempted more than two 3-pointers per game but only made 23.7 percent. Maldonado averages 6.3 assists per game (against 3.5 turnovers). Xavier Johnson will likely guard him but will need to be careful. Maldonado draws 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes. But it will be interesting to see how much pressure IU puts on the ball, as he has eight games with at least five turnovers.
Ike is a big-bodied forward who will likely match-up with Trayce Jackson-Davis. The 252-pounder makes 51.6 percent of his shots but doesn’t really look to score from beyond-the-arc. Ike draws a lot of fouls as well — 7.3 per 40 minutes, a rate that is fourth highest in the country.
A third weapon for Wyoming is sharpshooter Drake Jeffries. The 6-foot-5 senior guard has made 40.1 percent from beyond-the-arc on more than six attempts per game. On seven occasions this season Jeffries made at least five 3-pointers in a game.
WHY THE FIRST FOUR?
Some would argue Indiana got a raw deal by being sent to the No. 12 seed play-in game at the First Four in Dayton. Most prognostications leading up to the Selection Show had the Hoosiers more comfortably in the field as a No. 11 seed.
In the end it was likely IU’s non-conference strength of schedule, ranked in the 300s nationally, that the NCAA Tournament Committee struggled with. The Hoosiers got no help from non-conference high-major foes St. John’s (17-15) and Syracuse (16-17), neither of which made the NCAA Tournament, while Notre Dame snuck into the First Four along with IU.
IU fans and analysts alike were particularly upset with Michigan (17-14) earning a No. 11 seed while the Hoosiers (20-13) were sent to Dayton. Indiana had just defeated Michigan two days prior to the bracket reveal, and added a win over Big Ten No. 1 seed Illinois in between.
“I’m a little surprised to see Indiana seeded this low,” Seth Davis, CBS’ college basketball analyst said on the network’s bracket reveal show.
His colleague on the show Clark Kellogg believes non-conference strength of schedule may have been the difference.
“We know how the committee views strength of (schedule), non-conference schedules especially,” Kellogg said. “And I think that carried the day (for Michigan), along with quality wins.”
OPEN PRACTICE MONDAY NIGHT
All teams participating in the First Four in Dayton will hold practice sessions open to the general public.
Indiana will practice at 6:35 p.m. Eastern on Monday evening at the University of Dayton Arena.
Both parking and admission are free for all fans.
A POTENTIALLY GRUELING TWO-STEP
Indiana’s reward if they survive Wyoming at the First Four in Dayton?
They would hop on a plane and fly for five hours in the middle of the night to Portland, Oregon. That will mean IU would actually be in their hotel on the West Coast at around 6-7 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, or 3-4 a.m. local Pacific time. The Hoosiers would no doubt then have a full day on Wednesday of practice, preparation and media obligations.
After all of that, on one day of rest IU would have to face No. 5 seed St. Mary’s, who will hop up to Portland on a short one and a half hour flight, at 7:20 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.
A LOOK AT THE EAST BRACKET
If you are in the camp of not wanting to see Purdue and Kentucky advance to the Final Four — good news. At least one of them cannot get there as the two IU rivals will meet in the round-of-16 if they both advance that far. Indiana will have a chance to keep the survivor of that game out of the Final Four, as both rivals join the Hoosiers in the East Region. Kentucky is the No. 2 seed, and Purdue the No. 3.
The East Regional semifinals and final will be held in Philadelphia, Pa. That’s a city where IU won the 1976 and 1981 national titles, and also lost their last NCAA Tournament game — in 2016 against North Carolina.
It would be a tough road for IU to get to Philadelphia. They’ll need wins over Wyoming, No. 5 St. Mary’s, and then likely No. 4 UCLA. If they got through that gauntlet, No. 1 seed Baylor would likely be waiting in the City of Brotherly Love.
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