Indiana returns home for the final time this season to face Northwestern on Saturday evening at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Wildcats are coming off of a 66-50 loss at Illinois on Tuesday and are 20-8 overall.
The game will be broadcast at 8 p.m. ET on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Jon Crispin on the call:
Indiana entered its first Big Ten home game this season with a 10-2 record on Dec. 28. The Hoosiers lost that game to Nebraska. It was a sign of what was to come.
Less than two months later, the Hoosiers are 15-13 and 5-10 in the league entering their final regular season game in Bloomington. The NCAA tournament is no longer a realistic goal. The NIT is no guarantee. A season once filled with great promise is sputtering to the finish line with few signs for hope.
Indiana hasn’t quit and the players and coaching staff continue to battle as we saw on Tuesday night in Iowa, but the losses are piling up. The five-game losing streak is Indiana’s longest since a nine-game skid to end the 2010-2011 season. And as of Friday morning, Indiana is alone in 13th place in the league standings. It’s been a stunning slide for a program just one season removed from an outright Big Ten regular season championship and a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
But the show must go on and it will on Saturday night as the Hoosiers host a Northwestern team that needs one more win to definitively punch its NCAA tournament ticket. It’s Senior Night in Bloomington and the program’s lone senior, Collin Hartman, will be honored in a postgame ceremony.
Mired in a tailspin, do the Hoosiers have the resolve to grind out a win?
MEET THE WILDCATS
Northwestern won the first meeting between the teams on Jan. 29 in Evanston in a game that Indiana was never a threat to win. Playing without James Blackmon Jr., Indiana managed just 55 points in a 13-point loss.
Since that win, Northwestern is just 2-4 with wins at Wisconsin and over Rutgers in Evanston. The losses in the stretch? Two to Illinois, a road setback to Purdue and a loss to Maryland at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Northwestern isn’t on the bubble, but it needs to carve out another win to feel secure about its NCAA tournament fate.
Junior Scottie Lindsey, a role player in his first two season at Northwestern, is back after missing four games with mononucleosis. However, the All-Big Ten candidate hasn’t been himself since the illness and has just eight points over 50 minutes in two games since returning.
For the season, Lindsey is averaging a team-high 14.5 points on 34.1 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line. He had 12 points in the first meeting, but was limited by foul trouble.
Joining him on the perimeter is junior point guard Bryant McIntosh, a Greensburg product. McIntosh went for 21 in Northwestern’s win over IU on Jan. 29. His assist rate of 37.5 percent is second in the league and he has a turnover percentage of just 14.6 in Big Ten games. He’s second on the team in scoring at 14 points per game.
Redshirt sophomore Vic Law was out all of last season with a shoulder injury, but has bounced back and is a big part of Northwestern’s leap forward this season. Law is third on the team in scoring at 12.9 points per game and second in rebounding at six per game.
Law, who is hitting 40.5 percent of his 3s on the season, has been in a slump from deep recently. Over Northwestern’s last three games, Law is 2-of-12 on 3s.
Senior wing Sanjay Lumpkin had a season-high 15 points in the first meeting between the teams and is Northwestern’s glue guy. His free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is 45.6 percent this season and he’s hitting 69.2 percent from the line in 52 attempts.
Freshman Isiah Brown is the backup point guard and is making just 34.9 percent of his 2s and 29 percent of his 3s this season.
Dererk Pardon is a 6-foot-8, 235 pound workhouse on the glass who wasn’t much of a factor against the Hoosiers in Evanston because of foul trouble. Pardon is finishing 61.6 percent of his 2s in Big Ten play and is the fifth best offensive rebounder in the conference. He also ranks fifth in the league in block percentage in conference games.
Gavin Skelly, a 6-foot-8 junior, is Northwestern’s primary backup up front. Skelly is 17th in the league in offensive rebounding and 11th in block percentage. Senior Nathan Taphorn comes off the bench and has knocked down 14 of his 34 attempts from behind the 3-point line in league play.
Northwestern is one of the league’s best defensive teams and held Indiana to .88 points per possession in the first meeting last month in Evanston.
Once again, turnovers are likely to play a significant factor for the Hoosiers. Here’s a look at Indiana’s performance this season in the points off of turnovers statistic in league play:
The margin is -73 overall and -94 in losses.
For Indiana to win, the Hoosiers are going to need a strong performance on the offensive boards. Northwestern isn’t great on the defensive glass (ninth in the league) and it’s an area where Indiana has been effective at times.
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
Despite the five-game losing streak, Pomeroy is still projecting an Indiana win with his model favoring the Hoosiers by two. Sagarin’s model favors Indiana by four.
It will be an interesting night at Assembly Hall as crowds have waned recently and just one win in February has fan enthusiasm low. Hartman, who has been a fan favorite and played his high school ball at Cathedral, certainly deserves a strong show of support from the IU faithful for his contributions over the last four years.
The on-court reality, however, is that Indiana has failed to live up to expectations this season. And barring a run through the Big Ten tournament and a surprise NCAA tournament berth, the noise around the program is only going to become louder.
(Photo credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images North America)
Filed to: Northwestern Wildcats