Matt Cohen | Special for IndyStar
The No. 4 ranked IU women’s basketball team will be spending its Thanksgiving away from the Bloomington chill and in The Bahamas sun, with two games this week in the Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Classic.
IU will play No. 7 Stanford on Thanksgiving at 1:30 p.m., and Miami on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
These are the first two of three straight games as Power-5 nonconference opponents for the Hoosiers after coming back to squeak past Quinnipiac over the weekend. And two of those three are currently ranked in the top-10.
There won’t be too much time for vacation, graduate student guard Ali Patberg said Wednesday, with two important games this week. So here are three things I’ll be watching for from my parent’s kitchen countertop.
Plain and simple: How does IU stack up against the champs?
Stanford won the 2021 national championship, beating the same Arizona team in the championship game that knocked out IU two rounds prior.
And like IU, Stanford returns all five starters from a year ago. That experienced Stanford team is 3-1 with the lone loss coming against a ranked Texas squad.
The Cardinal certainly are national title contenders again, and that’s a conversation the Hoosiers want to put themselves in. IU already has a top-15 win over Kentucky, but Stanford is an even higher rung on a potential NCAA tournament resume.
On a neutral court even this early in the season, this will be a good measuring stick for head coach Teri Moren and her Final Four talk. IU has not been shy about its goal of taking a step beyond its Elite 8 appearance last year. To do that, IU will likely have to beat a team in March of Stanford’s quality.
Can this IU team compete at that level? Moren and Patberg are confident they can. IU’s top-5 ranking would indicate the same. On Thanksgiving, IU will get its chance at another signature win.
Can IU’s defense take the next step?
Before the season began, Teri Moren talked about her team’s defense as its strength. That IU would be able to shut down opponents with its defense and the offense would do enough to compliment that.
Yet the defense hasn’t been the force Moren hoped it would be.
IU’s field goal percentage defense? Ranked 152nd in the nation as of Nov. 23. Turnovers forced? Ranked 307th. Three-point field goal defense? 232nd. And scoring defense? 104th.
Moren isn’t too concerned. Not yet at least. Last year IU’s defense started poorly in her estimation before finishing the year ranked 59th in field goal percentage defense (first in the Big Ten). She expects the same can happen this year.
Stanford is ranked 97th nationally in scoring offense and Miami 254th. Especially against Stanford, Moren knows it isn’t the easiest game to fix all defensive questions, but it will give IU a high-quality opponent to make adjustments against. And it’s the type of team where IU’s defense will need to be strong come March.
IU needs rebounding improvement
You might be surprised to hear IU’s second-leading rebounder this year is Nicole Cardaño-Hillary. She is the shortest player on IU’s roster.
She has one more rebound (25) than Mackenzie Holmes’ (24).
Holmes has been IU’s star on offense. She has 12 more points through four games than any other IU player. Defensively though, she hasn’t been quite as dominant.
Moren said Wednesday IU has given up too many easy looks near the basket, and in large part that is why its field goal percentage defense is so far outside the top 100. As one of IU’s two main interior defenders along with Aleksa Gulbe, Holmes’ struggles on the defensive end has been a big factor in allowing those easier shots.
In fact, Holmes is fourth on IU in defensive rebounds behind Gulbe and two guards — Cardaño-Hillary and Grace Berger.
And as a whole, IU’s rebounding numbers have been among the worst in the Big Ten — 13th in the conference for total rebounds — and ranked 225th nationally.
While it hasn’t hurt IU yet, those are numbers Moren wants to see improved.
Both games this week will be streamed on FloHoops — which requires a $29.99 monthly subscription fee. The games will also be broadcast on WHCC 105.1 FM radio.