The Indiana Hoosiers’ quest for a sixth national championship was already going to be a difficult one as they are one of many who have a legit shot of cutting down the nets in Houston, but the road to the Final Four got exponentially tougher when then the NCAA Selection Committee decided to place the Hoosiers in the East Region (or what FIFA fans would call “The Group Of Death”)
North Carolina, Xavier, West Virginia, and Kentucky are all national championship contenders, just like Indiana. Unfortunately, through a sick twist of fate, only one at most will even make the trip to Houston at the beginning of April. In fact, at least one title hopeful won’t even make it to the Sweet 16. Indiana vs Kentucky could have made an entertaining Elite Eight or Final Four matchup, but instead it may be a critical Round 2 game with the loser feeling like it’s season was a disappointment.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, both team’s still need to win their round one matchups. IU drew a very tough opponent in Southern Conference regular season and tournament champion Chattanooga. Can the Hoosiers avoid the infamous 5-12 upset and face off with Kentucky in the second round? Here are three reasons why we will finally get IU-UK and three reasons we won’t.
Three Reasons We Will Get To See IU vs UK
- While the Chattanooga Mocs have one of the better defenses in all of college basketball, there is one weakness that can be exploited and that is their defensive rebounding. The Mocs have let their opponents rebound 26.5% of their missed shots, which ranks 113th in the country. While still ranking in the top 50% of teams, it becomes a little bit more glaring when you consider that the Hoosiers are the 12th best team in the country at grabbing offensive rebounds, grabbing 36.5% of their missed shots. Against a good defense like Chattanooga’s, it’s important to get second chance points.
- A theme in recent in NCAA Tournament history has been that a team has a chance to go far if they have superior guard play. Well, when you have Indiana’s all-time assist leader and the school’s seventh-ranked scorer in Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, I think you can claim to have superior guard play. Ferrell won’t let the Hoosiers lose in the first round because he knows that this is his last chance at a tournament run.
- As I said after the Hoosiers’ loss in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers actually benefitted from the early exit as banged up players like Juwan Morgan and Collin Hartman should be ready to go for IU’s matchup with Chattanooga. If the Head Coach Tom Crean can get quality minutes out of both of them, the Hoosiers can go back to using their depth as a weapon to tire out the opponent. If Rob Johnson is able to play it only tilts the depth advantage in Indiana’s favor.
- Another reason grabbing offensive rebounds is important for IU is because it will help make up for the team’s lost possessions because of turnovers. And there will be quite a few turnovers as Chattanooga ranks 49th in forcing while Indiana commits a turnover on 16.7% of its possessions (which ranks 257th in the country).
- With a record of 29-5, the Mocs were a popular upset pick before the NCAA Bracket was announced. While Indiana is a tough matchup, Chattanooga won’t be intimidated as the Mocs have already beaten a couple of power-five conference schools this season (Georgia and Illinois). Maybe even more impressive is the Mocs’s road win at Dayton, who is a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament. For the record, Indiana’s best true road win is also against a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament (Iowa).
- Who says Indiana is the only one that can ruin the IU-UK reunion? Kentucky has its hands full too with a first round game against Stony Brook. Just like the Hoosiers, the Wildcats have a lot of strengths but also have one glaring weakness. While that weakness is turnovers for IU, it’s defensive rebounding for UK. Kentucky allows opponents to rebound 30% of their misses, which ranks 260th in the country. Meanwhile, the Seawolves rank 31st in offensive rebound percentage and have a skilled frontcourt scorer in Jameel Warney (who had 43 points and 10 rebounds in the American East championship game).While an upset is unlikely, the Wildcats still shouldn’t overlook their round one opponent.