It has been a season of unfamiliar, and at times uncharted territory thus far for the Indiana women’s basketball team.
A win over a top five team? The Hoosiers did that for the first time in a decade.
A national ranking as high as No. 12? That had never happened for IU until this 2019-20 campaign.
Now Indiana is set to begin Big Ten conference play, and once again the Hoosiers find themselves in an unfamiliar spot — as one of the favorites to win the league.
The last time Indiana claimed a Big Ten regular season crown, no one on the current team had been born and head coach Teri Moren was just 13 years old.
The Big Ten began sponsoring women’s basketball in 1983, and IU shared the regular season league title that year with Ohio State.
Indiana has not won a regular season title since, and for the most part they haven’t been expected to compete to do so — until now.
Moren’s 2019-20 Hoosiers enter league play as one of a handful of teams with legitimate title aspirations. The Hoosier head coach knows what a legitimate contender looks like, and she is also in a unique position to recognize an emerging program. Moren played on the first ever Purdue Big Ten championship team, and she sees some of those familiar winning attributes in her squad.
“We feel confident in this group,” Moren said. “They are quietly confident. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in this group. I do. We’ve got great leadership. We’ve got great pieces.”
The confidence no doubt stems in part from an early proven ability to compete at the highest level of the game. The Hoosiers have already faced three top ten teams. IU competed down to the wire against all three and pulled of an upset of No. 5 South Carolina last month.
Those major tests for Moren’s program were about more than just building confidence, however. The now sixth year head coach of IU sees those games as valuable preparation as Big Ten play opens this weekend.
“The reason why we played all of those non-conference games, the likes of South Carolina, Baylor and UCLA, was because we wanted it to prepare us for Big Ten play,” Moren said.
Despite the national ranking, 10-2 record, and high level play against elite competition, senior forward Brenna Wise sees something else when she looks at her teammates — untapped potential.
“We have so much room for growth,” Wise said. “We’re nowhere near our full potential. The Big Ten is the Big Ten. You can’t overlook anyone any night. This was a great prep sending us into the Big Ten. We’ve played a very strong non-conference. We feel very confident going into the Big Ten. We’ve been tested.”
Indiana opens Big Ten play on Saturday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers will host Michigan State at 6 p.m.
BALANCE AN EARLY STRENGTH FOR IU
Indiana has eleven players averaging 11.8 or more minutes per contest, and seven averaging 8.3 or more points.
Leading the way in the scoring department has been much improved sophomore guard Grace Berger with 12.9 points per game. Right behind her is redshirt junior Ali Patberg with 12.2 points and more than five assists per game.
Wise averages 11.5 points per game and is IU’s co-leader in rebounds with 5.8 per contest. Once again illustrating Indiana’s balance, five different players average more than five rebounds per game for the Hoosiers.
One thing Indiana needed coming into the season was for one of several true freshman post players to step in and assume a major role alongside a guard oriented group of veterans.
6-foot-3 Mackenzie Holmes has done the job in the paint thus far, averaging 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. The Maine product believes that a challenging non-conference slate has prepared her for what is to come in the Big Ten.
“Having games like UCLA, games like South Carolina and Baylor, those are very tough teams to go against, and personally as a freshman I need to go through those rough patches and fight through that adversity in order to be prepared for what’s to come next, which is Big Ten play,” Holmes said.
THE BIG TEN TITLE CONTENDERS
Joining No. 14 Indiana in the AP Top 25 are No. 12 Maryland (9-2) and No. 23 Michigan (9-2). Minnesota. Michigan State, Rutgers, Northwestern, Iowa and Nebraska are all in the group of teams also receiving votes.
From an RPI perspective, IU leads the way at No. 15, followed by No. 16 Iowa, No. 18 Northwestern, No. 19 Purdue and No. 21 Ohio State.
Nine Big Ten teams are in the current RPI Top 45. Clearly, whoever wins the Big Ten title will earn it.
Coming off of a disappointing loss to No. 10 UCLA, Moren will have her team ready to go.
“It becomes a whole new season on the 28th,” she said.
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