In a state that lives and breathes basketball, the No. 14 University of Indiana women’s team is finally catching up to the level of respect that has surrounded the revered men’s team for years. Like with Tennessee in the women’s game, putting on that Hoosier uniform in the men’s game inherently comes with the responsibility of upholding an esteemed basketball tradition.
That was never the case for the Indiana women’s team, which has never made the Sweet Sixteen and took 33 years to return to the NCAA Tournament’s second round after making it there in 1983. But last year, the Lady Hoosiers snuck into the NCAA Tournament as a 10-seed and upset the Texas Longhorns in the first round. They have now made it to the second round twice in the past four years.
Cutting their ranking in half
Adding to that success story, head coach Teri Moren’s squad came out and shocked the country with a 12-spot rise in the polls through the first five weeks of this season after starting at No. 24. Indiana now sits at 12-2 overall (2-0 in the Big Ten) with key wins over the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks and the No. 23 Miami Hurricanes.
The Hoosiers also have two losses to ranked teams (the No. 6 Baylor Bears and the No. 10 UCLA Bruins), but neither of those were by embarrassing margins, leaving Indiana with the same amount of hype and intrigue they had after beating the Gamecocks.
Aiming for Big Ten takeover
The Hoosiers are arguably the best team in the Big Ten right now after the No. 12 Maryland Terrapins’ stumble against the Northwestern Wildcats. Tomorrow Indiana will host Illinois, before facing Purdue, Iowa and Northwestern. After those four winnable games comes Maryland, which has won four regular season titles and three tournament titles during its five years in the Big Ten.
The Terps have become the standard of excellence in the conference and have been a perennial power dating back to their ACC days. Beating them wouldn’t carry as much weight this year because they haven’t looked very impressive against good teams, but it would be another stepping stone towards a high seed come March in a potentially history-making season for the Hoosiers.
Patberg leads the way
Indiana is led by the big four of senior Brenna Wise, redshirt junior Ali Patberg, sophomore Grace Berger and freshman Mackenzie Holmes. Patberg is the team’s vocal leader, while Wise is more laid back and leads with composure. Berger is one of the most improved players in the nation, having a breakout sophomore campaign and leading the Hoosiers in scoring during the early part of the season. She is back on top of that category at the moment with 13.2 points per game. Patberg and Holmes, the team’s best post player, aren’t too far behind.
Nobody on Indiana has gaudy rebounding numbers, but Patberg leads the team with a solid five assists per game. She has been a patient point guard and plays with intelligence as well as high energy. In many ways she embodies the positive vibes surrounding the Hoosier program right now. She was the star of the team last year with 15.8 points per game, but hasn’t forced her scoring this year. Here’s a look at her second-best outing of the season when she had 18 points against the Youngstown State Penguins.
Patberg is a Notre Dame Fighting Irish transfer who played high school basketball in the state of Indiana and is now playing in her second season with the Hoosiers. She is eligible to play next year as well.
Turning history into their story
Indiana is a long way away from playing for a Sweet Sixteen bid, but may have the talent to get there and perhaps further. It is a team that nobody in the Big Ten wants to face right now and has passed the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Michigan State Spartans, two conference teams that were ranked ahead of them in the preseason. And with the Michigan Wolverines falling out of the rankings, the Hoosiers and Terps are the only Big Ten teams that are currently in the top 23, with Minnesota back in at No. 24.
Wise is the only key contributor that Indiana will lose to graduation this year, so look for the Hoosiers to continue setting new precedents for the women’s program inside hallowed Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.