On Thursday afternoon, Teri Moren stood in front of the five championship banners at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Displayed proudly and prominently, those banners may be considered a source of pride and happiness for the Assembly Hall. They paint a beautiful picture behind Moren, but there’s one problem: None of them belong to the women’s team.
Over the nine years that Maureen has been in Indiana, the goal of putting up one of those signs herself has never gone away. The past two seasons have been the closest Hoosiers has come to achieving that goal.
The appearance of the Elite Eight in 2020 and the appearance of the Sweet Sixteen in 2021 put Indiana at the center of the national conversation and brought a great deal of interest and expectations to the team.
This season, Indiana’s eyes are on winning titles. However, the way they approach these goals will look different than what Hoosier fans have been accustomed to in the past two seasons.
“A year ago, we had all the right pieces,” Maureen said during a media day in Indiana on Thursday. “Now, we have to figure out how to combine the seven collectibles with the seven new faces.”
All the parts needed to succeed are there – including the depth of the seat
Despite losing key defensive players like goalkeeper Nicole Cardanio Hillary and forward Alexa Golby, not to mention strong point guard Ali Batberg, Maureen remains confident that Indiana still has “all the pieces” to work toward the same level of success the program is used to.
“We have always been a program that wants to have a lot of bits — different kinds of bits — on the floor,” Maureen said. “Last year it didn’t satisfy, but with the combination of the four freshmen as well as the transfers…we welcome the idea of being able to go deeper and we’re excited about that.”
Last season, Maureen seemed to hang her hat on using a consistent set of five at roughly 40 minutes of every game. There was little consistent action off the bench when all five starters were healthy – the exception came when Mackenzie Holmes sustained a leg injury that kept her off the field for more than a month.
While Hoosiers still have “working horses,” in Moren’s words, capable of playing the entire game, they may not have to. The four starters on the team clearly lack experience in the NCAA basketball ways, but that doesn’t mean they, and anyone else off the bench, won’t be called up.
“The only way to gain experience is to play, I realized,” Maureen said. “I think there will be a moment when you will likely see that we are using our depth more than we did a year ago.”
One newcomer who seems ready to get this experience early is Ranger Yarden Garzon, one of Indiana’s most famous newcomers. Garzon, a 4-star recruit according to Premier Basketball’s report, has the potential to be a huge contributor to both ends of the field.
“She has a natural instinct, she’s going to do things we don’t necessarily do,” Maureen said of Garzon. “She is just a natural basketball player. I think she has a chance to be a very special player.”
Team chemistry is a critical factor for success
With the wealth of talent and a good amount of experience Hoosiers have on their team, one of the key factors to their success will be chemistry and relationships between the team.
But if the media day were any indication, it wouldn’t be much of a concern. After guards Chloe Moore-McNeil and Sidney Parrish finished speaking with the media on Thursday, the cheers of their teammates resounded throughout the assembly hall.
Group bonding events and practices over the summer allowed seven strangers to get to know each other and the rest of the team. Seniors take new students under their wings, and the past has shown that the culture surrounding the program breeds teammates who will always cheer for each other.
“This is what sets us apart,” Maureen said. “Our chemistry has been off the charts for the past few seasons. So it’s going to be really up to us in terms of how quickly we can build relationships with each other, how quickly our chemistry can be again really, really, really good.”
The Rise of Chloe Moore McNeil
Moore-McNeil entered her sophomore year in 2021, and he was a name few outside of Indiana women’s basketball fans know so well. She saw relatively consistent action off the bench, but she wasn’t a major contributor. This trend appears set to continue into the middle of the 2021-22 season.
As Indiana suffered a two-week hiatus due to COVID-19, Moore-McNeil took time to work on its game, and the switch has been flipped. For nearly the remainder of the season, she was the number one contributor off the bench. I played with more confidence, guarded hard around the perimeter and took – and made – more shots.
“It really made me understand that I need to get a little bigger and give more,” Moore McNeil said.
Now, still under the radar, it appears to have earned itself a starting niche.
“We have to watch that girl,” said attacker Keandra Brown. “I think this year will be her breakout year and I’m really excited for her.”
Maureen had similar sentiments, citing Moore McNeill’s growth in off-arc shooting and her overall strength increase. Last year, Moore-McNeil shot three throws at a 31 percent average, and had six games in which she scored at least three.
Defensively, the 2021-22 season saw her face off against top bowlers like Kaitlyn Clarke and other players on the periphery. Moore McNeil said one of her biggest goals this season is to improve her individual defense. If she succeeds in doing so, she is poised to be one of the largest shareholders in Indiana.
“She wants to come in and do what she can do to help her team win,” Maureen said. “A kid like Chloe, who has spent time on the bench, who has spent time in every practice just trying to get a little better every day, and now she’s got to a point where she has this opportunity in front of her — not just start, but play big minutes for us.”