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Indiana Hoosiers vs. Saint Mary's Gaels Prediction: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Saint Mary's Gaels Prediction: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

After grinding out a hard-fought win over Wyoming in Tuesday's First Four, Indiana treks from Dayton, Ohio, to Portland, Oregon, for its First Round matchup with Saint Mary's.

The momentum of a strong Big Ten Tournament carried over into the Hoosiers' First Four victory, particularly in the play of Jordan Geronimo.

"Even throughout the Big Ten Tournament, I think Geronimo has been a key to our run, so I wasn't surprised at all," Trayce Jackson-Davis said in Tuesday's postgame press conference. "He's an energy guy. He's going to go rebound. He's going to go get things at the top of the backboard and dunk it hard."

Indiana will need another energetic performance against Saint Mary's, a Tournament stalwart under head coach Randy Bennett and one of the most intriguing teams in this year's field.

The Gaels boast an impressive win over No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga, and play some of the stingiest defense of any team in this year's field.

East Region: No. 12 Indiana Hoosiers (21-13) vs. No. 5 Saint Mary's Gaels (25-7)

Time: Thursday, March 17 at 7:20 p.m. ET
Where: Moda Center (Portland, Ore.)
TV: TBS
Spread: Saint Mary's -3 

Keys for Indiana 

Indiana successfully leveraged a substantial size advantage in the First Four, scoring 10 more two-point field goals than the Hoosiers allowed. That gap compensated for a 6-to-2 disparity in 3-pointers made. Saint Mary's scores almost 55 percent of its points from inside the arc, while yielding the highest percentage of two-point offense (58.6 percent) in the nation. Of course, that means the Gaels don't give up many 3-pointers, but Indiana isn't a particularly adept 3-point shooting offense.

Being able to exploit interior scoring opportunities from Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, as well as the freshman Geronimo continuing on his current trajectory are critical, while at the same time limiting Saint Mary's opportunities.

Keys for Saint Mary's

A methodical offensive approach fuels Saint Mary's. Deliberate possessions looking for the best available shot, not the first open look, and stifling defense are this team's hallmarks as evidenced in some of its final scores. During a four-game winning streak to close the regular season, the Gaels did not allow more than 64 points yet never produced more than 69 on their end.

In a seven-game winning streak earlier in the campaign, SMC held six of their opponents to 65 points or fewer. A combined score of 130 points or less is what the Gaels need. They're solid on the glass, in particular holding opponents off the offensive boards, thanks to the interior presence of Matthis Tass.

On the other end of the floor, if shooters Kyle Bowen, Alex Ducas and Tommy Kuhse can stretch Indiana's bigs away from the paint, it should open up scoring opportunities on the inside — almost a reverse engineering of the common strategy to work from inside-out.

Final Analysis

Indiana has looked outstanding at times this season, and put together enough of those stretches to hold off a good Wyoming team on Tuesday night. Saint Mary's experience — six of its primary contributors are seniors — and style of play mean IU cannot suffer through any lulls. The Gaels are built to exploit sluggish periods from an opponent, building a lead that's more difficult to overcome in a game with fewer possessions.

Prediction: Saint Mary's 64, Indiana 57

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing.