Indiana's Dominant Win Highlights 31-2 Week for Big Ten
The Hoosiers, so far, are everything they seemed like they could be
Photo via Indiana Women’s Basketball Twitter
It is not surprising to see the Big Ten win 93.9 percent of its games to start the season considering the difficulty of opponent to start the team’s respective non-conference schedules.
But that doesn’t mean that there were no valuable points to take from this week’s slate of matchups. And of course, the big takeaway came from the game of the week: Indiana has the potential to beat anyone.
If you need a look at the results from this past week:
Indiana Takes Down No. 13 Kentucky
The Hoosiers were my projected No. 2 team in the Big Ten, and that was a thought shared by both the AP and Coaches polls. With the talent on Maryland’s roster, that felt like it might be the ceiling. After their 88-67 win over Kentucky, moving Indiana to No. 4 in the AP poll, I may have been selling them short.
Indiana took an 8-6 lead on the Wildcats with 5:38 to go in the first quarter and never trailed the rest of the way. That’s not to say it was a blowout all game – it was 45-44 with 6:55 to play in the third – but the Hoosiers always had an answer to whatever run Kentucky went on.
That 45-44 game turned into 55-46 in the next 2:40, then it was a double-digit lead after three quarters and the Wildcats never got it within single-digits again. It was a remarkably impressive performance, specifically in the fourth quarter. Indiana had a double-digit lead after 30 minutes last year against the Wildcats and completely blew it. This year, the Hoosiers outscored Kentucky 23-14 in the fourth to turn it into a blowout.
Indiana has a very clear starting five that it relies on to do almost all of the scoring, but through two games, this group feels even more special than it was last year. Mackenzie Holmes and Grace Berger were the top two scoring options in 2020-21, and they haven’t lost a step here, averaging 20 and 18.5 points per game against Kentucky and Butler, who Indiana beat 86-63.
Holmes was especially dominant against the Wildcats, scoring a career-high 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting in the 21-point win. Her efficient night was part of an insanely efficient team performance, with Indiana shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 54.5 percent (6 of 11) from three.
That leads me to the true story to start the season: Nicole Cardano-Hillary. The team won 15 of 17 games she started last season, but that was despite her shooting 35.8 percent overall and 27.3 percent from deep. Cardano-Hillary has never shot higher than 36.9 percent from the field or 30.5 percent from three.
Through two games, Nicole Cardano-Hillary has made 15 of 18 overall, good for 83.3 percent. Of those 18 attempts, 13 have been from three, and she’s made 10 of those. That is good for 76.9 percent.
She erupted for 29 points against Butler, but followed that up with another solid outing against Kentucky, tallying 12 points while hitting 3 of 5 from three. Is this sustainable? Absolutely not. But if Cardano-Hillary can even cut these percentages in half and keep them there, that is major improvement that will help the rest of the offense.
I also love how Ali Patberg has been utilized early on. The team’s heartbeat is averaging only 11 points per game and has struggled from deep (1 of 7), but she leads the Hoosiers with 7.5 assists per game and has just two turnovers. That is winning basketball.
Indiana made a statement against Kentucky, and it has more chances to make similar statements on this non-conference slate with Stanford on Nov. 25 and NC State on Dec. 2. Those are likely tougher opponents than the Wildcats, but the Hoosiers have proven capable to not just play with anyone, but beat anyone.
Nebraska is Very Mean
I am using this week’s stat section to give you one final chance to jump on the Nebraska bandwagon before it’s too late. Sooner or later, everyone is going to know what I was trying to tell you.
Last season, Nebraska went 13-13 and averaged 69.5 points for and 70.1 points against per game. Very mediocre stuff, even in a difficult conference.
Now, I know that the Cornhuskers have played three inferior opponents so far, I understand that. But, in those three games, Nebraska has won 108-50, 102-47 and 88-33.
That gives the Cornhuskers 99.3 points for and 43.3 points against per game. That is the No. 4 offense, No. 15 defense and No. 2 scoring margin in college basketball.
This is despicable offensive firepower from Nebraska early on in every category that isn’t free throw shooting. The Cornhuskers are also averaging 24.3 assists per game with a 2.09 assist-to-turnover ratio, fifth and fourth in the country, respectively.
Statistically, taking opponents out of the equation, Nebraska was probably the best team in college basketball last week. What is maybe the most baffling part is that the team’s assumed best player, Sam Haiby, has not at all been the reason why.
Haiby has been efficient (55.6 percent shooting) and is tied for the team lead with 4.7 assists per game, but her 8.0 points per contest is sixth on the team. Sixth! Haiby has only played 20.3 minutes per game thanks to the amount Nebraska is decimating opponents, so this will absolutely go up, but the Cornhuskers are showing their depth early.
Isabelle Bourne has been the most impressive scorer for Nebraska with 17.7 points per game while shooting 71.9 percent from the field. She has also scored those points in 17.3 minutes per contest. Yep, 53 points in 52 minutes. Not bad.
Nebraska gets a somewhat challenging opponent this week, so we will learn more as the competition ramps up. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the Cornhuskers.
What to Watch
I (lazily) focused on the top of the Big Ten last week, so let’s get more variety this time.
Rutgers vs. Stony Brook, Tuesday (11/16), 11 a.m. – B1G+
Rutgers came into this season with a team of almost entirely new faces, but so far it is doing a lot of what it always has done. So far, the Scarlet Knights have allowed 41.7 points per game, 10th-best in the NCAA. It has led to a 3-0 record.
Stony Brook is not a team to overlook, though. The Seawolves are also undefeated through three games, doing so primarily through offensive dominance with 80.3 points per contest.
This clash of styles should be an interesting one, and could go some ways into proving if Rutgers is legit or not, because the team’s offense (57.0 PPG, last in the Big Ten) has not been to this point.
Nebraska vs. Creighton, Wednesday (11/17), 8 p.m. – B1G+
This is the game I alluded to previously. Creighton does have a loss, but it was to a solid Drake team by 3, and that was followed by a 20-point win over Omaha.
The Bluejays have shot the ball well but have struggled defending in the early stages, so this could be a shootout of a game. If Nebraska runs rampant once again, the Cornhuskers should get some serious top 25 looks. If it stays close, it might be time to pump the breaks a little on where this team stands.
Minnesota vs. No. 2 UConn, Saturday (11/20), noon – FloHoops
Minnesota suffered one of the two losses in the conference, losing to a Jacksonville team that went 2-17 last year, not great. The Gophers did come back and win two straight to get above .500, but they are now traveling to the Bahamas to die.
This game is on this list only about 2 percent because you should watch Minnesota. This is, instead, an excuse to talk about UConn and why the Huskies are awesome. Paige Bueckers is among the coolest basketball players on the planet and just put up a career-high 34 against a good Arkansas team. She is a star worth watching regardless of opponent.
UConn is also insanely deep and features a new freshman phenom in Azzi Fudd that you will likely see a lot of when the Huskies are up 30 at halftime. You want a Big Ten connection? Former Ohio State forward Dorka Juhasz is there and will seemingly have, at the least, a sizable role off the bench for them this season.
Watch this game because watching UConn is a blast. Maybe Minnesota stays in it (I don’t think so!), but it’ll be fun either way.
Purdue vs. Dayton, Saturday (11/20), 6 p.m. – B1G+
Purdue is 2-0 out of the gates with new head coach Katie Geralds, who takes over a year earlier than expected with Sharon Versyp’s early exit thanks to an investigation into the coach’s behavior.
The wins came against two Westerns – Kentucky and Michigan – and neither was all that convincing. Dayton is a tough opponent who will likely be favored against the Boilermakers in West Lafayette.
If Geralds leads Purdue to 4-0 (with a decent Illinois State team on 11/17), that will show real signs of early success.
No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 6 Baylor, Sunday (11/21), 1 p.m.– BTN
Another Sunday (for those I led astray by saying Indiana-Kentucky was on Saturday, I apologize), another absolute banger as the game of the week.
The Terrapins will host the Bears in a top 10 showdown that will go a big way into showing just how strong this Maryland lineup can be.
It’s been three blowout wins with over 80 points scored in each, and the Terps will get to destroy two more before facing Baylor at the end of the week. The Bears have been less convincing early on, but are still an incredibly talented group led by one of the best players in the country: NaLyssa Smith.
This heavyweight showdown should be a blast, but it could come down to health if Maryland is able to get the signature victory. Diamond Miller has been out to start the year, and Ashley Owusu went down to an ankle injury in its most recent game.
If both are unable to go – though it appears that at least Owusu will be available – the Terrapins will rely even heavier on Angel Reese, who has been spectacular (18.7 PPG, 11.0 RPG) thus far.
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