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Indiana women’s basketball: What’s the ceiling this year?

Indiana has struggled against top teams this year.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Indiana at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana women’s basketball is a great program with a great team.

This year’s iteration has one inherent flaw: lacking a signature win over a power. The Hoosiers fell on the road to Stanford, Iowa and most recently Ohio State.

One thing all those teams have in common over Indiana is high-level talent. Stanford is among the sport’s blue bloods with top recruits up and down the roster, Ohio State has come a long way and is getting better and better at talent acquisition and Iowa has Caitlin Clark.

Indiana plays to a system that is meant to maximize the whole to be better than the sum of its parts. Mackenzie Holmes is one of the best players in the country. Teri Moren recognized that and surrounded her with shooters to form one of the league’s best offenses on a good day.

Double Holmes and one of Sara Scalia, Sydney Parrish or Yarden Garzon is waiting on the arc. Overcommit to them and Holmes has the space she needs to go to work and make you pay. There’s a lot of ways for them to get the ball in the hoop.

Defensive intensity has been Moren’s calling card since she arrived in Bloomington and is a priority, particularly off the bench. Chloe Moore-McNeil had to get that part of her game down to get minutes.

Being among Indiana’s best perimeter defenders off the bench served her well two years ago as she’s grown into a key piece. She’s probably the best example of player development this program can boast.

High level talent can elevate that system. Grace Berger was for the most part that kind of player, only lacking consistent shooting from the perimeter. She was Indiana’s best shot creator and was a go-to to get a bucket when the other team was going on a run.

Without that, Indiana has run into an issue. There’s players who can do that on the roster but they’re all probably a year or two away from being that kind of piece. So when another team has a Cameron Brink, Caitlin Clark or Cotie McMahon, Indiana doesn’t really have an immediate answer.

Indiana was in striking distance on the road against Ohio State without Parrish, but the dreaded Buckeye press showed up in the third quarter when they seized the lead and capitalized off of double-digit Hoosier turnovers.

Moren took responsibility for the lack of a consistently executed press break, but it’s easier to get through that with an athletic ballhandler like Berger.

The quest to repeat as Big Ten champions was always going to be difficult but a surging Ohio State and and Iowa that’s never really out of any game is going to make that more difficult. A home matchup with the Hawkeyes on Feb. 22 looms even larger now.

Asking Indiana to be perfect outside of that is a tall order too. This is still a high seed, obviously, but things are going to get interesting when the tournament rolls around.

Will Indiana have a good matchup in the first and second rounds? What kind of opponents will be in the bracket if the Hoosiers make it back to the Sweet Sixteen? They could always get hot, but there’s a lot of dangerous teams that could cause issues.

The season and race for the Big Ten aren’t over, far from it, but there’s been enough of a trend against competition with top level talent.