How Indiana will prepare for Wyoming, First Four


BLOOMINGTON – So, Dayton it is.

In the end, the Hoosiers needed every bit of their good performance in this week’s Big Ten tournament. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t have made the field at all. 

They’ll go to Dayton early this week to face Mountain West opponent Wyoming, a tough, respectable team that will make advancing through Ohio and on to Portland, Ore., difficult for the Hoosiers.

‘Some disrespect’: Indiana irked at NCAA draw, but it’s in, and that’s all that matters.

March Madness 2022: Breaking down East Region, home to IU, Purdue

You wanted to talk about that matchup, about the process that led IU into the First Four and more, and so we did. It’s the Insider Q&A, NCAA tournament edition, Vol. I(of ?):

9:10 p.m. Tuesday, tip time obviously subject to the early game running long. IU-Wyoming is part of Session 1, according to the after-market ticket websites I’m seeing.

Wyoming has three double-digit scorers, is really good on 2s and has an outstanding guard/wing playmaker in Hunter Maldonado. He’s not much of a 3-point threat (the Cowboys have 2-3 other players who serve that purpose, starting with Drake Jeffries). But he’s 6-7, and he averages 18.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. So he’s a handful. 

The Cowboys also have a really good big man, Graham Ike (19.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg). He’s only about 6-9, and his shot-blocking numbers are nothing to write home about, so Trayce Jackson-Davis could find some good matchups there. But Wyoming isn’t a pushover in the post. 

Most of the Cowboys’ best wins came in conference play, where they swept Utah State and Fresno State, and beat fellow NCAA tournament teams Colorado State and Boise State at home. 

Wyoming will ask Indiana a lot of questions, and will be a tough out Tuesday night. 

From the hip, looking at their statistical profile, I think this could be the case. 

If you’re looking for reasons to be encouraged, Wyoming’s 2-point offense is a big part of what makes them tick efficiency-wise, and obviously Indiana is one of the best 2-point defensive teams in the country. If you’re looking for reasons for concern (in a broad-brush statistical way), the Cowboys do draw a lot of fouls, and make free throws at a solid rate (75.1% in conference play). Indiana has had trouble with fouls in patches this year. It can’t afford them Tuesday. 

I will freely admit I was surprised to see IU in Dayton, and that broadly speaking, I thought the Hoosiers deserved slightly better. Having said that, it does feel like we let ourselves be surprised by the committee’s apparent lack of weight on conference tournaments every year. 

Should they emphasize them more? Perhaps. I think there’s an understandable desire not to give in to recency bias. And also, frankly, putting together a 68-team field, with all its bracketing rules and procedures, isn’t easy. The committee can’t simply leave a gap in its plans in case 5-6 teams make unexpected runs. I know in the past the committee has said it basically prepares its entire bracket accounting for both possible outcomes in the final conference tournament title games of the weekend, so it clearly feels a need to have as much sewn up as possible.

Indiana wasn’t the only team to feel perhaps under-respected for its conference tournament performance this weekend. Virginia Tech, and especially Texas A&M, would like a word as well. Maybe this is just a mental note worth making for future reference. 

You are preaching to the converted on this. The physicality encouraged by the way games are refereed hurts the league. It wears players down, makes the Big Ten less appealing to elite prospects hoping to showcase their talent for the NBA and too often leaves teams unprepared for an NCAA tournament in which games tend to be called so as to encourage more free-flowing basketball. 

I don’t think the standard of Big Ten officiating is poor compared to other high-major conferences. Every league’s fans think theirs are the worst officials. But I do think the Big Ten could encourage different emphases among those officials that might lead to better results, and thus a better product.

The short answer is we don’t sleep. The long answer is we don’t sleep, but also we do a lot of swearing, and mainline airport coffee. And pack a big bag. 

As for how the teams fare, it’s obviously a mixed bag at best. First Four teams don’t tend to make deep runs. Some of that is skewed by the inclusion of the No. 16 seeds, which obviously almost never win. Some is down to the effects of travel. Some, of course, reflects the reality that most First Four teams aren’t good enough to win three games in the tournament. 

This rundown by OddsShark of all First Four teams from 2011-17, only finds three that played to the second weekend. All were at-large (i.e. not the No. 16 seeds), so that does improve the odds while shrinking the sample size. But it’s not common. There’s been a lot of mention of UCLA doing it last year, but of course, travel wasn’t a consideration then, just the extra game. 

Short answer: Teams that go to Dayton don’t often reach the second weekend. 

At this point, I don’t think it’s changing. Maybe Trey Galloway can get back in, but Mike Woodson has been loathe to make those changes through most of this season, and I would lean toward assuming he stays that way. 

Now, I’m compelled to point out here that he has moved away from feeling wedded to lineups as games have worn on. He left Race Thompson out of a lot of the second half against Michigan, once he realized he had a frontcourt that worked with Miller Kopp and Jordan Geronimo around Trayce Jackson-Davis. And we saw Parker Stewart’s minutes shrink substantially this weekend in Indianapolis, with Woodson finding combinations that worked with Galloway and Rob Phinisee around Xavier Johnson. 

Will he change the starting lineup? I doubt it. But he’s willing to change the finishing lineup, and that probably matters more.

This is a question we’ll be asking Jackson-Davis in the coming weeks, one way or another. One good weekend in the Big Ten tournament isn’t going to explode his draft stock, but an entire month of the improvement we saw in Indy might. If the Jackson-Davis we saw this weekend carries Indiana on a deep tournament run, maybe his math does change. 

He also might be the kind of player whose decision is impacted by NIL. If the money is good enough there to match what he’d get playing in Europe or on a two-way contract, maybe a fourth year in college is more appealing. In any event, we’ll ask once the season is over. I would imagine he’ll have an answer some time after that. We’ll see.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.

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