Indiana played .500 basketball over the final month of the regular season, yet some emerging trends, coupled with the consistency of the team's unquestioned star, have the Hoosiers optimistic about the NCAA Tournament.
Seeded fourth in the Midwest Region, Indiana (22-11) is set to meet No. 13 Kent State (28-6) in Friday's first-round game in Albany, N.Y.
The Hoosiers expect the Golden Flashes to give the usual focused defensive treatment to Trayce Jackson-Davis, the first Indiana player to surpass 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career and the program leader in block and boards.
"At the end of the day, he's still going to be double-teamed like he has been all season because of the fact that he's good at what he does in terms of putting the ball in the hole and making plays for people around him," Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson said.
Jackson-Davis averages a double-double for the Hoosiers, posting 20.8 points and 10.9 rebounds a game. Jalen Hood-Schifino averages 13.5 points a game,
Jackson-Davis has scored at least 24 points in the past four games. He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in Saturday's Big Ten Tournament semifinal loss to Penn State.
After finishing second during the Mid-American Conference regular season, Kent State rolled to the MAC tournament title, winning its three games by a combined 40 points.
Kent State defeated top-seeded Toledo 93-78 for the tournament championship to win for the 10th time in the past 11 games.
The Golden Flashes are coached by Rob Senderoff, who served as an assistant under then-Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson for parts of two seasons before losing his position in 2007 amid a university recruiting scandal that prompted NCAA sanctions.
Senderoff nearly defeated his former boss, Sampson, when Kent State lost 49-44 at eventual NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed Houston on Nov. 26. Ten days later, the Golden Flashes hung around at perennial power Gonzaga before losing by seven.
Kent State also had a chance to win against tournament-bound Charleston in November, but lost by a basket.
"We'll be ready," Senderoff said. "We're playing a great team in Indiana, who's had an incredible season, as well, out of the Big Ten. But we're tested. I mean, we put ourselves up against a great schedule. We did it for a reason. ... These guys are fearless, and we're going to be ready."
Senior guards Sincere Carry (17.6 points per game) and Malique Jacobs (13.0) lead Kent State in scoring. Carry played for three seasons at Duquesne before spending the past two seasons with the Golden Flashes.
"He's the best player I've coached here at Kent," Senderoff said. "He's had an unbelievable career. Obviously, we all got ourselves to this point, but boy, did he carry us at a high, high level here throughout the year."
Indiana and Kent State share a history beyond Senderoff, meeting twice in the NCAA Tournament earlier this millennium.
In 2001, the 13th-seeded Golden Flashes upset the No. 4 Hoosiers 77-73 in first-round play at San Diego before Indiana regrouped the following season. Seeded fifth in 2002, the Hoosiers advanced all the way to the national title game, downing No. 10 Kent State 81-69 in the Elite Eight at Lexington, Ky., along the path. Future NFL star tight end Antonio Gates was the Golden Flashes' top player.
--Field Level Media