DES MOINES, Iowa --- Thursday's 7:10 p.m. EST matchup between No. 5-seed Indiana and No. 12-seed Chattanooga features plenty of storylines. Here are the five you should be paying the most attention to:
1. HOOSIERS' HEALTH: A few Hoosiers have been nursing injuries over the last week. Junior forward Collin Hartman was the most recent example. He sported a brace around his wrist in a team photo taken just before it left for Des Moines, but said Wednesday that his shooting has been unaffected. However, Hartman did not take any jump shots during Indiana's open practice.
Sophomore guard Robert Johnson, who has not played since injuring his ankle against Purdue on Feb. 20, is "probable" according to Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Johnson said he got back into live action this week and came close to playing against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament last week. "It felt pretty good, but we decided not to play that day," Johnson said.
Freshman forward Juwan Morgan re-injured his shoulder against Maryland on March 6 but returned four days later and logged six minutes in the Hoosiers' loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. Crean said Morgan has practiced all week.
Getting healthy has been a priority for the Hoosiers since the early exit in the Big Ten Tournament, so how Johnson and Hartman play tomorrow will be worthing watching.
2. CHATTANOOGA'S BALANCE: One of the most experienced teams in Division I is also arguably one of the most balanced in terms of scoring.
Ten different Chattanooga players have scored in double digits at some point this season. Seven average at least 7.3 points per game. Indiana senior guard Yogi Ferrell said that kind of balance gives the Mocs multiple scoring threats on the floor.
"Anybody can hurt you, and it's just basically a matchup," Ferrell said. "They can shoot the ball well, they can drive it, they can basically do it all."
Aggressiveness in attacking the basket has been a big reason why the Mocs have had such balanced scoring. Chattanooga has made more free throws than its opponents have attempted so far this season.
To negate that advantage, Crean said it starts with transition defense and not giving the Mocs easiest drives or follow ups.
3. MOCS' LENGTH: The shortest player in the Chattanooga starting lineup is 6-2 junior guard Greg Pryor, and the tallest is 6-10 forward Justin Tuoyo. That range produces an average height of 77 inches, or roughly 6-foot-4.
"They're very long," Crean said. "Haven't seen them in person yet, but this is going to be one of the longer teams we will have faced."
According to KenPom, opponents have turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions against Chattanooga, good for 54th out of 351 Division I teams. The success on defense is a direct result of a zone defense Crean had high praise for.
"They have an outstanding zone," Crean said. "They can go into it and we haven't seen a team that is that big in the zone the way that they are."
The zone defense, combined with the length, has made it difficult for opponents to get any baskets in or around the paint. Chattanooga has blocked 13.4 percent of opponents' 2-point shots, good for 24th in Division 1 according to KenPom.
4. RESPONSE FROM MICHIGAN LOSS: It was evident Crean was angered by the No. 5 seed the Hoosiers received despite the outright Big Ten title this season. However, he and his players channeled that into productive energy once they began preparing for Chattanooga.
"Once we got together on Monday, they were very well versed on Chattanooga," Crean said. "Not just Nick and Yogi and Max, but guys had already gotten into the film, be it Sunday night and Monday morning."
The players were focused and well-prepared. Crean also said players were already answering and asking questions in the film room.
"We didn't do a live practice on Monday or Sunday, but we did a ton of walk through and so they had a lot of it down and I was excited about that."
5. BATTLE OF OUTRIGHT CHAMPIONS: This is the only game in the tournament that features two outright conference champions matched up against one another. Kentucky and Stony Brook, also in Des Moines and part of the East Region, is the second and only other matchup to feature regular season champions, but Indiana-Chattanooga is the only one with outright champs.