BLOOMINGTON – One of the beautiful aspects of the NCAA tournament for any given team can be the emergence of an X factor.
For Indiana, that player might be Emmitt Holt.
The freshman had done little in recent weeks but racked up six points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals in the Big Ten tournament against Maryland, helping the Hoosiers make up for the absence of Hanner Mosquera-Perea.
Entering their Big Dance opener on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska, the Hoosiers (20-13) have questions at center that must be answered before they take the floor against No. 14 Wichita State (28-4).
Mosquera-Perea is the starter, but a knee injury kept him out of the 75-69 loss to Maryland last week at the United Center in Chicago.
"I hope we have Hanner in a healthy place on Friday," Indiana coach Tom Crean said.
Even if Mosquera-Perea plays – his official status is day to day, according to the team – Crean may find better options against the Shockers.
Collin Hartman can space the floor with his 46 percent 3-point shooting. And Holt has a better rebound rate than both Hartman and Mosquera-Perea.
"I think you need both, just like you need Collin," Crean said. "We had Jordan Fuchs, ready to go who could’ve played, too, against Maryland. It just so happened that Emmitt really played well."
Holt had eight points in Indiana’s conference tournament opener, a critical 71-56 win over Northwestern.
"He really stepped up to play a big-time role for us (in Chicago)," Hartman said. "I’m really proud of him. He has really overcome a lot."
Holt drove an SUV that struck teammate Devin Davis on Halloween night, and though police did not find Holt at fault, the New York native struggled emotionally.
Eventually he forgave himself with the help of Davis’ family, and Holt produced some impact games, including a 15-point, five-rebound performance at home against Pittsburgh during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
He enters March Madness sounding confident again after a midseason lull in which his playing time waned.
"I’ll just trust and believe in wherever the coaches put me on the court," Holt said. "Coming off the bench like I have been, when guarding a bigger player, I’ve got to use my quickness and not fight with him. Once I do that, I feel I could be a very good defender down low."
Down the road, Crean said he views Holt, averaging 9.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per 30 minutes, as a potential starter. "Will he start on Friday afternoon?" Crean said. "I don’t have an answer yet. But he’s doing an outstanding job, is improving constantly, and we’re fortunate we have him."
Note: Indiana is to be featured in "March Madness Confidential," a behind-the-scenes look at how six teams operate during the NCAA tournament. Footage airs periodically during studio coverage of the tourney on TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV.