DES MOINES --- It's finally that time, Indiana fans -- the NCAA Tournament is here.
The Hoosiers tip off what they hope is a long tournament push against 12-seed Chattanooga on Thursday night.
Both teams held an open practice and met with the media at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday. Tom Crean said Indiana held a full pracice earlier in the day at nearby Drake University.
Robert Johnson (ankle), Juwan Morgan (shoulder) and Collin Hartman (wrist) are all expected to play for Indiana. Crean listed Johnson as "definitely probable" and said Morgan has practiced all week. Hartman, who injured his right wrist/arm during last week's Big Ten Tournament loss to Michigan, was dressed but limited in his participation during Wednesday's open practice. Hartman wore a long sleeved shirt and did not do any shooting drills.
Here's an in-depth look at Chattanooga, with my thoughts:
1. AN IDEAL MATCHUP FOR INDIANA: Everybody loves to talk about the 5-12 upsets this time of year, but this is not an upset that is likely to occur. Even though Indiana felt slighted when it received a 5-seed, the Hoosiers ended up with about as favorable a first-round matchup as they could have gotten. Stephen F. Austin (14 seed) and Yale (12 seed) would have been much more difficult, for example.
Chattanooga (29-5) presents challenges for Indiana, but not any. First, for the problems the Mocs do present.
2. SIZE AND EXPERIENCE: Chattanooga is long both on the perimeter and inside, and the Mocs are the 17th-most experienced team in the country. Both things have traditionally proven to be very valuable in the Big Dance.
"This is going to be one of the longer teams we will have faced, and you can really see it when they get up into their zone and press full court," Crean said Wednesday. "They have an outstanding zone they can go into and we haven't seen that is that big in the zone the way they are."
3. THE FOUL LINE: Another area of concern for Indiana is Chattanooga's ability to get to the foul line. The Mocs made more free throws than their opponents attempted this season, and they get 22.9 percent of their points from the foul line.
Crean was interested to see how Chattanooga got fouled so much before he watched the film. Now that he's had a few days to study it, I asked him Wednesday what he discovered.
"To me, so much of it is going to start with transition defense and not letting them get easy baskets on drives or follow-ups, and it's going to take getting to the defensive rebound because they do get fouled numerous times on putbacks," Crean said. "We've got to be really, really vigilant in how we're pressuring the ball or what we're doing in the post. We can't put our hands in and slap down. They post up, they drive the ball. They do a great job of dropping the ball off to the baseline if they're not in a post up. So you've got to be active. We've got to have great hands in this game, not just hands on bodies, but we but we have to have great activity with our hands and feet because they move the ball well. They catch people in rotation a lot and they drive and may get bumped on the perimeter or drop it off inside."
4. PRESS: Chattanooga's size, experience and ability to get fouled are legitimate concerns for Indiana, but its full-court press is not. Not many teams have attempted to press Indiana because teams have rarely been effective when they've tried. Few teams can run with the Hoosiers, and if they break it a few times for 3s or dunks, Chattanooga is likely to come out of it. Chattanooga may start the game in the press, but I'd be surprised if Indiana doesn't shoot or run them out of it rather quickly.
PREDICTION: Indiana 82, Chattanooga 66.