What to Expect: Northwestern

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.

TEMPO-FREE PREVIEW

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)

Around the Hall: IU’s disconnect, blue blood status and more

Around the Hall is recommended reading from the Inside the Hall staff.

Indiana’s disconnect is difficult to explain, Mike Miller of The Herald-Times writes:

In a season where the Big Ten is, for the most part, a muddled mess of mediocrity, Indiana’s only course for salvaging something meaningful would be a run through the conference tournament, which begins in two weeks. Even for an IU program that hasn’t won two games in the Big Ten Tournament since 2003, it’s not out of the question given the landscape of the league.

Getting to that point, however, will require a fix that Indiana has so far appeared incapable of administering.

With three regular-season games remaining — and losses in seven of the past eight games — there is a palpable disconnection within IU’s program.

Terry Hutchens of CHNI writes that the noise around Tom Crean is getting louder:

A season that once looked as if it would certainly end in the NCAA Tournament now has IU fans wondering if the Hoosiers can qualify for the NIT.

As I drove across I-74 from Iowa City Wednesday afternoon, I got a sampling of the noise as I tuned into four different sports talk shows in the Indianapolis area over a six-hour stretch. Dan Dakich, like he did on the ESPN telecast Tuesday night, said he believed it was more of a problem of players not buying in than it was the fault of Crean. The tone on the other shows was more of wondering aloud if Crean can survive the current debacle in Bloomington.

If you just went with the sentiment on social media, he probably would not.

Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star dives into this question: Long a blue-blood, what is IU basketball now?

As long as Indiana alumni spend to support a blue-blood program, and the school enjoys the facilities advantages of a blue-blood program, allocates the recruiting budget of a blue-blood program and draws the fan support of a blue-blood program, Glass will continue to expect it to perform like a blue-blood program.

Which brings us back to fans’ current frustrations.

The decay in results under Bob Knight’s final six years, followed by the briefly bright but largely underwhelming tenure of Mike Davis, followed by the Kelvin Sampson debacle, pushed Indiana out of the Big Ten’s top spot. Given the root-and-branch rebuild Crean had to undertake in his first three years, his achievements in the past five-plus years cannot be dismissed.

They just don’t tell the entire story.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated previews this spring’s coaching carousel and Indiana is among the jobs Thamel believes could open:

Indiana: There’s an industry-wide expectation this job will open this this year. Will Indiana fire Crean? Or will he find a safe landing elsewhere? That’s the drama. (It costs him nothing to leave, contractually.) But the bottom line is it would be an upset if there’s not a new coach on the sideline in Bloomington next year.

Justin Albers takes a look at Tom Crean’s tumultuous time in Bloomington:

In essence, it’s been a tumultuous run of either exceeding expectations when they’re relatively low and falling short of expectations when they’re impossibly high with no real middle ground to be had. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, then, that fans and the media alike have formed opinions that fall on opposite sides with nothing in the middle.

Who’s right? Honestly, there’s truth in both sides.

POTB 164: Five game losing streak and what’s next

Podcast on the Brink is back for a new episode with host Jerod Morris of The Assembly Call. The show is available weekly during the season.

In this edition of the show, Morris and Inside the Hall editor Alex Bozich are joined by Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star, to discuss his recent piece on the state of IU basketball and much more. Among the topics discussed:

· Zach’s thoughts on why Indiana continues to fall off as the season moves along
· The different narratives out there on the state of the program
· How big of an impact the injuries have had on Indiana’s free fall
· Can anything happen from this point forward to change the tone around the program?
· The end of year discussions about the program and possible outcomes
· Zach’s piece titled: Long a blueblood, what’s IU basketball now?

Related content: Game Theory podcast with Sam Vecenie

And much, much more. As always, feel free to drop the show a note at jerod@assemblycall.com.

Listen in the audio player below, download the episode, subscribe via iTunes or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Film Session: Iowa

In Indiana’s loss to Iowa on Tuesday night, the Hoosiers often had trouble with the full-court pressure from the Hawkeyes.

Even when Indiana avoided the traps at halfcourt and looked to begin running some offense, the Hoosiers remained a little sped up by the pressure and still turned the ball over. They particularly got themselves into trouble on the baseline.

We’ll look at four turnovers due to the press in the latest edition of Film Session:

With Indiana up five nearing the midway point of the second half, Josh Newkirk inbounds the ball to Robert Johnson:

Johnson dribbles it up a bit as he’s met at halfcourt. He passes the ball ahead to Freddie McSwain:

McSwain quickly makes a move to the basket off the right corner on Cordell Pemsl:

But McSwain starts to get out of control and bodies Pemsl:

Pemsl falls to the ground as McSwain loses the ball. He’s whistled for an offensive foul. Iowa ball:

McSwain has shown some promise on offense as a putback rebounder as well as a cutter off the baseline. But he’s not a player that’s proven he can put the ball on the deck and make a move, which got him into trouble here.

Five takeaways from Indiana’s loss at Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa – In a game it led nearly throughout, Indiana couldn’t come up with a play when it mattered the most down the stretch on Tuesday night. As a result, the Hoosiers dropped their fifth straight game, falling 96-90 in overtime to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the loss to the Hawkeyes:

· Indiana has the second worst opponent free throw rate of any power five conference team: Indiana has had trouble keeping opponents off the free throw line all season, but the issue reached new heights on Tuesday night.

Iowa outscored Indiana by 23 at the line and posted a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 83.9 percent. Indiana’s opponent free throw rate in conference play is now 46.3 percent, the second highest of any power five team in league play. Only West Virginia, which plays a full court pressure defense with the objective of creating turnovers, has allowed a higher opponent free throw rate in conference play.

Postgame, Tom Crean didn’t want to discuss the officiating, but it’s clear Indiana’s inability to keep opponents off the line has played a significant factor in Indiana’s collapse. In 10 Big Ten losses, Indiana has been outscored by 76 points at the free throw line.

· The turnover problem continues: As Indiana built a 17-4 lead in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa looked like the rattled team. The Hawkeyes were turning it over and Indiana was capitalizing early on.

But as the contest moved along, a familiar script returned: Indiana couldn’t take care of the ball. The Hoosiers turned it over 22 times for a turnover percentage of 26.6. It was Indiana’s second worst turnover game from a percentage standpoint in conference play. It’s late February and Indiana’s turnover problem isn’t going away.

The 22 turnovers turned into 25 points for Iowa. In Big Ten losses, Indiana is being outscored by 94 in points off of turnovers. That’s a number too high to overcome, particularly in close games.

· No answer for Peter Jok: Iowa senior guard Peter Jok was benched, along with the rest of the Hawkeye starting lineup, just over two minutes into the game as Indiana sprinted out to a 9-0 lead.

But once Jok returned, Indiana couldn’t keep him off the foul line. Jok finished with a game-high 35 points and hit 22 of his 23 free throw attempts. The 22 made free throws broke an Iowa record set by Don Nelson against Indiana in 1962. And the 23 free throw attempts were a Carver-Hawkeye Arena record.

“He was really good, he was really strong,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He mixed it up. He posted a little bit. He came up top. He was on the wing. He gave it up a few times. He was really, really special tonight.”

· Indiana’s slim at-large NCAA tournament hopes are now gone: Tuesday’s loss clinched Indiana’s second sub .500 record in Big Ten play in the last four seasons.

It also all but guaranteed that the Hoosiers won’t receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament for the second time in four seasons. Indiana’s chances to make the tournament now rest on winning the Big Ten tournament next month in Washington, D.C.

As a likely bottom four seed in the conference tournament, Indiana is likely to play on Wednesday of the event for the first time since the conference expanded to 14 teams.

· Indiana appears to be out of answers: The Hoosiers are now in a downward spiral and with seven losses in its last eight games, this season is beginning to look like Crean’s first three years in Bloomington when the team couldn’t win down the stretch.

Indiana is now 1-5 in February with two games remaining against a likely NCAA tournament team in Northwestern and a definite NCAA tournament team in Purdue. After that, the regular season wraps up in early March with a road game at Ohio State. The Hoosiers have won at Ohio State just once under Crean and that came during the 2012-2013 season.

The frustration on the face of Crean and the IU players in the postgame was evident. The same topics are coming after each game – turnovers, defense and free throws attempts by the opponent. Right now, Indiana has no answer for any of its issues.

(Photo credit: Iowa Hawkeyes)

Notebook: IU’s losing streak grows to five with loss at Iowa

Indiana led Iowa for nearly 38 minutes in regulation on Tuesday night.

All the Hoosiers had to do was hang on for the final two minutes to end a four-game losing streak and win just their second game on the road this season.

But after leading by eight with under five minutes to play, Indiana surrendered its lead for the first time with 2:13 remaining. It was the same story in a close game for IU as things fell apart down the stretch giving Indiana a 96-90 loss in overtime.

“It’s disheartening as hard as we play, we make our mistakes as do the other teams, to not have it go our way,” Tom Crean said postgame. “They’re working their tail off preparation-wise, practice-wise, we were fresh, and we were energetic.”

In the game’s final 20 seconds, it looked like the Hoosiers might not even force overtime. Iowa freshman Tyler Cook missed a point blank look at the end of regulation that would have given the Hawkeyes a win at the buzzer.

But Thomas Bryant wasn’t called for a foul on the play, giving IU another breath of life heading into overtime. But the Hoosiers couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

Indiana fell victim yet again to turnovers, foul trouble and poor defense in its fifth straight loss. The Hoosiers committed 22 turnovers, a Big Ten conference season-high.

The lack of awareness and poor decision-making from IU turned into 25 points off of turnovers for Iowa. Up until the overtime period, whenever Iowa scored, IU found a way to match it. But when things got down to the wire, the Hoosiers couldn’t overcome their own mistakes.

“Basketball is a game of runs and we made them run early,” Robert Johnson said. “Any good team is going to respond and that’s what they did. We tried to weather the storm and I think at the end of the game we did a good job doing that, we just fell a little short.”

Lack of discipline proves costly for Hoosiers in OT

IU went more than 11 minutes before it committed its first foul. By the final buzzer, the Hoosiers had collected 35 fouls. Iowa finished 39-of-47 from the free throw line.

Senior Peter Jok took control for the Hawkeyes in overtime, scoring 15 of his game-high 35 points in the final five minutes. Eleven of those points came from the free throw line.

Multiple Hoosiers were called for touch or reaching fouls and were caught out of place on defense.

In overtime, three of IU’s starters, Josh Newkirk, Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. fouled out, along with Juwan Morgan. It seemed as though no one from IU’s starting lineup could defend without fouling in the tight situation.

“You think the rule is one way but you know different referees call it different,” Johnson said. “You just have to read the game and just adjust to how they’re calling it.”

Johnson breaks out of slump

After a scoreless night against Minnesota, Johnson scored in double-digits for the first time since February 5. He finished with 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

Johnson, with the help of Newkirk and Blackmon, carried much of the weight early by accounting for 24 of IU’s 33 first half points.

On Johnson’s game-high fifth steal, he found Newkirk on a breakaway that led to a pair of free throws to tie the game at 75.

Tuesday night’s loss guarantees that IU will finish below .500 in conference play for the first time since the 2013-14 season, when it finished 7-11 in Big Ten competition.

With just three games left before the conference tournament, IU returns home to face Northwestern for senior night on Saturday.

(Photo credit: Iowa Athletics)

Video: Tom Crean reacts to loss at Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tom Crean met with the media following Indiana’s 96-90 overtime loss to Iowa on Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Watch his postgame comments below:

Video: IU players react to loss at Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. met with the media following Indiana’s 96-90 overtime loss to Iowa on Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Watch their postgame comments below:

Video: Fran McCaffery reacts to win over Indiana

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery met with the media following Iowa’s 96-90 overtime win over Indiana on Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Watch his postgame comments below:

The Minute After: Iowa

Thoughts on a 96-90 loss to the Hawkeyes:

Another game the Hoosiers seemingly had in control down the stretch on the road, and yet another one they threw away.

Against Minnesota, some failed box outs from the Hoosiers — and some fortuitous movement from the Golden Gophers on their final possession — sunk Indiana in a game they led for nine of the final 10 minutes of the contest. Tonight, the Hoosiers sprinted out to a 17-4 lead as Josh Newkirk and James Blackmon Jr. banged home 3-pointers. Fran McCaffery was so angry with how his team started the contest that he pulled his five starters for five fresh Iowa bench players. The Hawkeyes were able to battle back and make a game of it, but Indiana continued to lead the entire way — and even had an eight-point lead with just under five minutes to go in the contest — until a Tyler Cook dunk and and-1 with 2:10 to go put the Hawkeyes up two at 73-71.

The Hoosiers were able to stick in there and get the game to overtime, as Josh Newkirk sunk two big free throws with 25 seconds to go to tie the game at 75. Thomas Bryant got away with a foul at the buzzer on Cook’s attempt and we went onwards to overtime.

But the final five minutes were a microcosm of all the plagued the Hoosiers in this one. Indiana simply had no answer for Peter Jok all game long. It was a masterful performance from the Iowa senior. When Jok wasn’t hitting shots when he was freed off the baseline to the perimeter (6-of-12), he was living at the line drawing fouls against the Hoosiers. Jok capped off his evening by scoring a ridiculous 15 points in the overtime frame — with 11 of those coming from the line. The senior ended the night 22-of-23 from the charity stripe, setting an Iowa record in the process. He finished with a game-high 35 points.

Late turnovers in the second half helped Iowa get it to overtime and Indiana continued with its carelessness in the overtime period, as it turned the ball over three times. McCaffery had his Hawkeyes pick up the Hoosiers in the backcourt and employ a trap at halfcourt for long stretches of the contest. The Hoosiers are already turnover prone and this defense made them even more so, as their turnover percentage of 25.9 was above their season average. And even when Indiana broke the trap line of the defense and got the ball deep into the frontcourt, the Hoosiers sometimes made bad decisions on the baseline for turnovers. And as Zach Osterman noted on Twitter, this defense also just completely wore down the Hoosiers by the extra frame as they limped to their fifth straight loss.

The numbers are now starting to look pretty ugly. Indiana is tied for 12th in conference with Ohio State, just one spot ahead of Rutgers in the Big Ten cellar. It’s now impossible to finish conference play with a winning record. And at just two games above .500 overall, there’s evidence to support the fact that an invite to the NIT is far from a guarantee.

Northwestern has struggled of late and the Hoosiers get the Wildcats at home on Saturday night. Can they stop the bleeding or is a sixth straight loss on the way?

(Photo credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)