Want to see some amazing basketball in Bloomington? Great, because the Indiana women’s basketball team enters the 2019-20 season with the most realistic potential a Bloomington basketball team has had in years. Let’s take a look at why they’ll kick ass and take names this season.
THE TEAM: Extremely Good
There is a nearly limitless ceiling with very few question marks. The team returns nearly 89 percent of its scoring and 84% of its minutes played from last year’s squad – one that won a game in the NCAA tournament before running into lights-out Sabrina Ionescu and Oregon, who could very easily win the whole thing this season.
The team’s 4 leading scorers — Ali Patberg, Brenna Wise, Jaelynn Penn and Bendu Yeaney (who is coming off an Achilles injury) — all return. Grace Berger and Aleksa Gulbe each played significant minutes last year as freshmen, and should undoubtedly take a step in the right direction this season. The team also has great depth at the guard position ready to blossom like Chanel Wilson and Keyanna Warthen, who combined for 24 points and 15 assists in an exhibition win over McKendree.
Perhaps the *only* question mark is how Indiana can replace the rebounding production of both Kym Royster and Lindsey Marchese. Royster hauled in a team-leading 84 offensive rebounds, and Marchese played important minutes throughout the season. Even with their departures, the Hoosiers still return 81% of their rebounding production from last season.
So, for a well-coached, well-balanced team returning 80+% of its rebounding, minutes played and scoring, what could possibly stop them? Probably one of only two things: injuries, and a tough schedule – two things out of the team’s control.
Last year, the injury bug came at a tough time as the Hoosiers fell to Minnesota in early February by just four after leading scorer Ali Patberg went down with a shoulder injury. Until she returned, Indiana lost three straight games, two of which were by single digits and included a second-half lead. In short, there’s an argument to be made Indiana’s final record from last season could easily have included an extra win or two had Patberg stayed healthy (and perhaps a different seeding in the NCAA tournament). Oh, and by the way, when she returned, Indiana defeated No. 10 Iowa.
THE SCHEDULE: Opportunities Galore
Schedule-wise, the Big Ten shouldn’t be as great as it was last season, but still a competitive conference. Where it gets difficult for Indiana is in late November, when they’ll play in the Paradise Jam against No. 2 Baylor and No. 8/10 South Carolina. These are the types of games the Hoosiers didn’t really have in the past. If Indiana wins, it’s an enormous upset. If Indiana loses, it’s just a loss that won’t really hurt them come tournament time if they take care of business in conference play. They also have ranked non-con games against Miami and UCLA, as well as a road game against a very solid and respectable Butler team.
In terms of the Big Ten portion of the schedule, Maryland will be great, but there’s absolutely a case to be made that Indiana is one of the three best teams in the conference. Aside from Maryland at No. 4 in the preseason AP poll, only Michigan State and Minnesota stand ahead of the Hoosiers (Indiana went 2-2 against those teams last season).
Indiana finished 10th in the Big Ten last year. Quite simply, that will not happen this year. This is a top 5 team in the conference, without a question. If that translates to a top five finish, that would probably mean 10+ conference wins.
THE BIG TEN: Not as Good
To be clear, the Big Ten is still going to be good, but a little more balanced in the top half. Maryland is going to be extremely good, and may even contend for a Final Four bid if healthy. Iowa will almost surely take a step backward with the departure of Megan Gustafson, but will still be a tough test on any given night. Rutger should be very good again, and Ohio State is expected to take a huge jump after massively overachieving in conference play last year. If the Hoosiers can avoid flukey performances like they had against Northwestern last season, there will seldom be a game they can’t win. Of course, it’s college basketball, and bad nights happen — that much is inevitable. But the Hoosiers should go into almost every conference game with the opportunity to win it, which is something that hasn’t been the case maybe ever before now.
The team is extremely good. The schedule is one of a program that believes it can hang with anyone. Teri Moren has won 21 or more games in each of her last four seasons. She’s proven she is fully capable of leading and building a great Big Ten program.
This team is going to be a force in the Big Ten, and it’s probably best on-paper team the program has ever had. Get to Assembly Hall early and often this Winter.