Fantasy Basketball

NCAAW: Indiana Hoosiers’ Grace Berger set for big 2023 season

The Indiana Hoosiers are a program on the rise, having reached at least the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in each of their last two seasons. They’ve also been one of the top teams in the Big Ten in recent years, a testament to the coaching of Teri Moren — and, of course, the players she’s brought in.

Fifth-year guard Grace Berger tops the list of players who have led the Hoosiers’ recent ascent. Her former high school coach Donna Moir credited Berger with “putting Indiana on the map,” and despite being one of the better players in the 2022 WNBA Draft class, she chose to return to the Hoosiers for 2022-23, exercising her extra year of eligibility granted to all NCAA players during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expectations for Berger and the Hoosiers will be high entering the 2022-23 season, and understandably so. The balance of power in the Big Ten has shifted, with Maryland at arguably its most vulnerable since it joined the conference, and Indiana is one of a few teams that should be in the mix for a Big Ten title. Conference coaches and media ranked the Hoosiers No. 3 and No. 2, respectively, in the Big Ten preseason rankings, while ESPN’s Charlie Creme had them as the second-highest Big Ten team (behind the Iowa Hawkeyes) in his latest “Way-Too-Early” Top 25.

As is usually the case for the country’s top programs, whatever success the Hoosiers enjoy during the coming season will reflect well upon its best players. As Indiana’s longest-tenured player and returning leading scorer, Berger is in a position to raise her own stock as a WNBA draft prospect should the Hoosiers continue their rise.

Honors and statistics

A native of Louisville, Ky., Berger was ranked by ESPN HoopGurlz as the No. 44 overall recruit in the class of 2018. She was a finalist for Kentucky’s Miss Basketball award in 2018 and was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Berger has been a starter at Indiana since her sophomore season, gradually increasing her scoring average from 13.1 points per game to 15.4 as a junior and 16.1 as a senior. She has also averaged at least six rebound and four assists per game in both of her upperclassman seasons, shooting better than 44 percent from the field; in 2022, she led the Hoosiers in both scoring and assists.

Berger’s consistency has landed her on three-consecutive All-Big Ten First Teams (2020, 2021 and 2022), and she’s garnered All-American Honorable Mention honors from WBCA and USBWA in each of the past two seasons. She was also named to the Cheryl Miller Award watchlist (an award given to the nation’s top small forward) in 2021 and 2022, and should be there again in 2023.

Internationally, Berger played for Team USA in FIBA’s AmeriCup competition in 2021, winning a gold medal alongside other stars such as Rhyne Howard, Aliyah Boston and Haley Jones in an experience which she called “surreal.” Berger averaged 5.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in the competition.

How far can Berger’s mid-range jumpshot take her?

Grace Berger: Master of the mid-range jumpshot.
Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

For those unfamiliar with Berger, her game probably doesn’t stand out as much as that of Division I’s most explosive scorers, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. She plays with remarkable balance and, despite opponents’ best efforts, is very rarely sped up out of her comfort zone.

This manifests in Berger’s mid-range game, which is one of the best in the country. Though she profiles as more of an off-guard, Berger has the ball in her hands often for Indiana, which puts her in pick and rolls frequently (35.1 percent of her possessions, per Synergy Sports) so she can diagnose defenses and make good decisions at her methodical pace of play.

It’s that steadiness and decision-making that makes Berger’s jumpshot so deadly. As a senior, she ranked fourth in the country in total made jumpers from 17 feet or closer to the basket, largely because of how easily she gets to those spots. Berger stands at 6-foot and is often able to shield off smaller defenders with her size, making shots that are typically discouraged by most coaches seem routine. It applies to her drives to the basket as well; even when she doesn’t outright blow by her defender, she still makes it look remarkably easy thanks to her frame and ball handling ability.

“The one thing about Grace, the reason we put the ball in her hands so often is because she elevates,” Moren said of Berger after the Hoosiers star hit a game-winning shot against Princeton in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. “She usually is our best at getting a shot off.”

Will this type of shot-making translate to the WNBA level? It’s a question asked of every future pro who thrives on using their size to their advantage in getting to the rim, as there’s a big difference between collegiate defenders and professional ones, and Berger is no exception; the types of finishes like the one that ultimately lifted Indiana past Princeton last March won’t be there as often in the WNBA.

Berger is far from a one-dimensional player, though, and even if she won’t have as much of a size advantage at the point of attack at the next level, her fundamentals will give her more than just a chance to compete. The speed of the pro game usually makes for a steep learning curve, particularly for primary ball handlers, but Berger’s disciplined style of play may give her a head start on her peers — that is, if whoever drafts her keeps her in that role. If Berger is destined to be more of an off-ball player, she’ll need to expand her range; for as masterful as she is from the elbow and the free throw line areas, she’s been hesitant to shoot 3-pointers thus far in her collegiate career, with just 4.3 percent of her scoring attempts coming from beyond the arc as a senior (Her Hoop Stats).

Watch her play

There aren’t a ton of intriguing matchups for the Hoosiers on their non-conference schedule, so Nov. 14’s nationally-televised (ESPN2) game against the Tennessee Lady Vols (who have a few WNBA draft prospects of their own) definitely stands out. Later, Indiana will take on North Carolina as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; that Dec. 1 matchup will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

Big Ten Conference play begins in earnest around the turn of the calendar year, and Indiana will play Nebraska on Jan. 1, 2023 in a nationally-televised game (ESPN2). The Hoosiers will also have nationally-televised matchups against Purdue (Feb. 5, FS1) and Iowa (Feb. 26, ESPN). All other Indiana games can be seen on the Big Ten Network or using the Big Ten Plus streaming service.

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