Indiana’s run through the NCAA Tournament starts in Des Moines, Iowa.
The No. 5-seeded Hoosiers (25-7) will play the No. 12 Chattanooga Mocs (29-5) at 7:10 p.m. on CBS Thursday out of the East Region. Should IU win, it will advance to play the winner of No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Stony Brook.
“We’ll put all our focus on Chattanooga,” head coach Tom Crean said. “This is not a situation where we’re getting ready for three teams.”
Indiana, the Big Ten’s outright champion, is looking to rebound after losing toMichigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament last week. This year will mark the program’s 39th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the most among Big Ten teams and the seventh nationally.
Chattanooga, led by first-year head coach Matt McCall, won both the Southern Conference’s regular-season championship and conference tournament title. They enter the NCAA Tournament as winners of five games in a row and have lost just twice in its last 18 games.
“The 5-seed, historically a lot of those 12 seeds are a little underrated and pull a lot of upsets,” fifth-year senior forward Max Bielfeldt said. “You’ve just got to be ready. Any team that makes the tournament, you know they’re good, especially a team that had five losses. They’re a talented team.”
Though not a typical opponent Indiana is accustomed to playing, the Hoosiers have beaten Chattanooga in both previous matchups between the schools.
Most recently, the Hoosiers beat the Mocs 78-53 Nov. 13, 2011 at Assembly Hall. Before that, IU picked up a 99-79 win Nov. 12, 2007 at Assembly Hall.
The players will receive a crash course in learning Chattanooga over the next few days, beginning almost immediately in IU’s locker room after the matchup was announced.
“We’ve got a lot of people who definitely hand us things we didn’t know,” Bielfeldt said. “We don’t exactly have access to that on our own, but we have the managers and all the guys do a great job telling us what we need to know and getting us prepared as far as scouting. I know they’re up there working their butts off clipping videos form all the games they’ve played.”
Indiana’s roster is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. Of IU’s eight leaders in minutes played, six were on the roster last season when the Hoosiers competed in Omaha, Nebraska. A seventh player among those eight, Bielfeldt, was withMichigan during its 2013 run to the national championship game.
Though IU’s team includes many of the same players it did a year ago, Ferrell said the current version of the Hoosiers is more prepared to make noise in this season’s tournament.
“I feel like we’ve got more guys on this team that are willing to fight for each other,” Ferrell said. “I think that’s the biggest thing and difference that I see is the desire, the pride to want to go out there and get a stop for our teammates.So I feel this team is more connected.”
Although the Hoosiers are fresh off last week’s Big Ten Tournament, which is also single elimination, Bielfeldt described the NCAA Tournament as “one of a kind.” Between the unfamiliar neutral courts, the format and the added attention surrounding the end of the season, he said it has the makings for games unlike anything else teams see during the season.
Ironically, Crean is at least partially familiar with Chattanooga after seeing themplay against mutual opponent Kennesaw State, who both teams beat.
He hasn’t had much time to look at much of the Mocs’ film, but he was quick to say that won’t last long.
“We’ll get familiar with them in a hurry,” Crean said,” and we’ll look forward to it.”