What to Expect: Northwestern

  • 03/11/2015 3:22 pm in

Indiana begins postseason play on Thursday evening in the Big Ten tournament at the United Center. The seventh-seeded Hoosiers will open against Northwestern. The Wildcats won the only regular season meeting between the teams, 72-65, on Feb. 25 in Evanston. 

The game will be broadcast at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN with Mike Tirico, Dan Dakich and Quint Kessenich on the call:

For the second straight season, Indiana heads to the conference tournament following a loss. But unlike a season ago where the Hoosiers went 3-3 in their final six Big Ten games, this Indiana team finished the regular season just 2-4 in its final six contests and in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

As documented in Tuesday’s March Watch, it’s been a steep fall for the Hoosiers in recent weeks from a team that looked like a very solid bet to return to the NCAA tournament to squarely on the bubble for selection. While there’s no certainty that Indiana will make the tournament by winning Thursday’s game against Northwestern, a loss probably seals IU’s fate as a N.I.T. team.

The notion of the “must-win game” is often tossed around as cliché, but in this instance, it’s an accurate description of where Indiana stands in terms of the NCAA tournament. Win and there’s still a discussion to be had. Lose, and well, start prepping for another year with no March Madness.

ANOTHER LOOK AT THE WILDCATS (All stats are for conference games only)

Northwestern’s win over Indiana in Evanston on Feb. 25 gave the program its first four-game winning streak in the Big Ten since 1967. Since that win, the Wildcats are just 1-2, with the lone win a double overtime triumph over Michigan that was essentially a miracle. The two losses, at Illinois and at Iowa, came by an average of 21.5 points. That said, this is a team that has responded from a 10-game losing streak with a 5-2 mark in its final seven league games, proof that there’s still fight in a team without much chance to make the postseason.

In the first meeting, Indiana had no answer for juniors Tre Demps and Alex Olah. Demps took the game over in the second half and finished with 23 points as IU’s switching of defenses mid-possession did little to confuse Northwestern. Demps finished the Big Ten schedule as the team’s leading scorer at 13.7 per game and hit 43 percent of his 3s. Here’s his shot chart in conference games, via Shot Analytics:


Olah, meanwhile, destroyed Indiana in the paint in his 35 minutes of action, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Three of those boards were of the offensive variety and if Indiana doesn’t get a body on Olah this time on missed shots, it could again prove costly. Senior wing JerShon Cobb, who missed the last game, returned for Northwestern’s final two games and should be in the starting lineup tomorrow as well. Cobb is averaging just 6.6 points in league play, but has been efficient. He’s making 56.5 percent of his 2s and 43.2 percent of his 3s. He’s most comfortable in the corner, as he’s hit 50 percent of his left corner 3s and 57 of his right corner 3s in league play.

Freshman Vic Law was also effective in the first game in Evanston as he finished with 14 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench. Law is another capable 3-point shooter as he knocked down all three of his attempts in Northwestern’s win over IU and is making over 44 percent against Big Ten opponents. Law is another guy that hurt the Hoosiers on the offensive glass.

Bryant McIntosh, arguably the league’s most underrated freshman, finished his first Big Ten season third in the league in assist rate and as the team’s third leading scorer at 11.4 points per game. McIntosh is best served in the facilitator role as he hit 34.8 percent of his 3s and just 46.4 of his 2s in league play.

A third freshman, Scottie Lindsey, figures heavily in the rotation and while he played just 12 minutes and scored three points in the first meeting, he’s a solid defender who can knock down the occasional 3. Sophomore Sanjay Lumpkin started 12 Big Ten games, but is a low-usage, average efficiency player who fills a role but not the stat sheet. Lumpkin is averaging just 2.3 points in league play, but scored seven against Indiana.

There are a few other Wildcats who could figure into Thursday’s outcome. Backup point guard Dave Sobolewski is a non-threat offensively and essentially just a space filler for when McIntosh needs a break. Sophomore Nathan Taphorn is a 3-point specialist who hit 50 percent of his 3s in Big Ten games. And freshman Gavin Skelly serves as a frontcourt backup who rarely contributes statistically.



IU’s loss in Evanston was defined by a mind-boggling second half stretch in which the Hoosiers went 10:06 of clock time without a point. This was after a first half in which both teams lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 40 points. In the postgame press conferences, Indiana coach Tom Crean said that his team just missed shots, while Troy Williams questioned why the Hoosiers settled for so many jump shots rather than attacking the rim.

Whatever the explanation, it’s a performance that Indiana simply cannot afford to repeat on either end of the floor. The 1.24 points per possession Indiana surrendered to Northwestern were the most the Wildcats scored in a Big Ten game this season. And even with 10:06 of game time elapsing without a point, Indiana still managed 1.12 points per possession, slightly above average for the Hoosiers in conference play.

So what are the keys for the Hoosiers? Don’t be surprised to see Indiana turn up the ball pressure and try to create some turnovers and easy scoring opportunities rather than sitting back in a zone. It worked last against the Wildcats and perhaps the Hoosiers will switch things up after finding success with some pressure late against Michigan State as well. Perhaps more man-to-man will lead to a better job on the defensive glass as Indiana surrendered an offensive rebounding percentage of 33.3 in the first meeting.


Pomeroy’s ratings, as they did for the first meeting, have the Hoosiers as a favorite (this time by five) with a 68 percent chance of an IU victory. The Vegas line opened with IU as a 4.5-point favorite, but is down to 3.5 as of Wednesday afternoon. Sagarin, like Pomeroy, favors Indiana by 5.

In terms of setting itself up for a run in the Big Ten tournament, Indiana couldn’t have asked for a better draw by getting the Big Ten’s worst defensive team in the opener and the potential for a Friday matchup with Maryland, a team it crushed at home and lost to narrowly in College Park.

But in a season where Indiana could have wrapped up a NCAA tournament bid by just going .500 over its final 12 games, the Hoosiers find themselves in a compromising situation needing a win to even keep hopes alive. Indiana hasn’t played its best game in a while, the pressure to win this game is significant and quite simply, it’s gut check time to see where this group is with four days to prepare for a winnable game. Can the Hoosiers deliver and make Selection Sunday intriguing? Or does the limp to the finish line continue with a fourth straight loss and a ticket punched to the NIT?

Filed to:

  • Look guys, I said CTC wouldn’t do it (and from a coaching standpoint, he shouldn’t), I was only thinking out of the ‘box’, out loud. But, a part of me thinks more needs to be done than put a 6’/ 2″ or 3″ guard on a straping, 7′ bemouth. Even HMP and EH couldn’t move him (even down on their knees practically for leverage, just like they couldn’t move Hammond.

  • Well, right or wrong, it has been done by many ‘good’ NBA and College coachs in the past. However, you are right, if they employed this tactic they usually used an ‘enforcer’ on a regular basis.

  • Dunbar

    How can you press if the ball doesn’t go thru the net? IU went TEN minutes w/o scoring in the 2nd half feb. 25. They couldn’t have pressed even if they wanted.

  • Dunbar

    Because James Blackmon is going to play 30 minutes plus. If you’ve ever seen an IU player give less effort on that end of the floor please tell me.

  • Lance76

    Could some of the difficulty at the end of this season be attributed to over practicing? I remember RMK lighten the load of practice toward the end of seasons. I seem to remember hearing about very long taxing practices this year, even on game day. Tired legs, injuries and/or freshman wall on highly utilized players are possible.


    I understand what you’re saying, but I just don’t buy into the ” they’re a really young team “, excuse anymore. Now, I don’t argue the point that they are overall a very young team, but then again at this point in Crean’s head coaching stint he is the one primarily responsible for things being that way again and again and it is up to him to do things in a way that when the, ” the reason is they are a really young team “, excuse is laid out there it actually applies because we haven’t used it over and over as an excuse in the past. When it comes to the overall experience of his teams, and why it is the way it is, he isn’t really dealing with any circumstances that all other blue blood programs deal with as well. If we want to still consider ourselves a blue blood program we have to act like one and wearing out the ” youth ” excuse isn’t acting like one IMHO. Similarly, if Crean wants to be a successful Div 1 coach he has to start doing more than one or two things differently and a couple of those things are stop using the youth excuse all the time and stop creating a situation to where that is how it is.


    Correct and if it is falling enough to get us a win, hoping and praying that it will fall enough again in the next game IS NOT any kind of a game plan, or as this season has shown us, not one that has any chance of succeeding on a regular basis.

  • I was afraid someone would pick out “young team” and take that out of the context I intended for it (which I admittedly confused via the parenthetical). I didn’t mean to excuse the performance, really–I was writing in response to a specific post. This _is_ a young team, meaning they’re going to be around for a little longer at least (I hope). And so abandoning them and the program seems wrong to me.

    Even so, parenthetically, being a young team isn’t an “excuse,” precisely, but objectively speaking a young team can’t be expected to do as well as a more experienced team. I don’t think that’s controversial. Otherwise, why would senior-laden teams be expected to perform better?

    Yes, they shouldn’t have collapsed like they did at the end of the season, and yes, Crean can’t use their age as an excuse. Particularly _he_ can’t. But freshman _have_ been instrumental on this team and freshman _do_ run into walls. More experience, everything else remaining the same, _will_ help them improve. It’s inevitable. And so when someone talks about abandoning the team like the other poster did, I have to wonder if they’ve really thought about it all that hard.

  • oldiugymnast

    I think it has a lot more to do with injuries. JBJ has his ankle pretty thickly taped, RJ has knee brace, Hartman has 2, Hanner has 1, Yogi seems to be slightly favoring his left foot and not pushing off as hard going right… So it seems like most of the team is nicked up. Nothing to keep you from playing, but enough to make a cut a little less hard, a shot a little short, a jump a little low, etc. But hey, I could be wrong. I know exactly as much about the nicks and cuts as you – which is zero.

  • Sarasota Hoosier

    Personally, its a sad commentary when IU must worry so much about Northwestern! Does NW have better basketball players or are they recruiting better than IU???? Of course not…..We need to quit worrying, use our athletic ability, press full court, speed up play and beat these guys by 20. Go Hoosiers!

  • cooper

    Maybe I should have said I’m conflicted on if winning or losing is better for the long term future of the team

  • Bballpop

    Totally agree. Just trying to keep myself positive. I had the same hope last year and you see where that went.


    Abandoning or giving up on this team, and / or our program, just isn’t something that is done by a true IU bball fan, period, I’ll not be doing it either ! I wasn’t arguing the premise that certain things are more likely to happen or less likely to happen with a young team or whether or not some things can be justifiably attributed to the fact that a team is young, but rather that that excuse, as far as Crean using it, is not a legit excuse this year, AGAIN, due to the fact that it was / is Crean’s job to not let it become a problem and if he does let it happen it’s his job to do whatever it takes to keep it from becoming such a problem that we have a near total collapse and it gets to a point to where he has to start making excuses as to why certain things continue to happen, not game after game, but season after season, e.g. we’re just a really young team and we’ve got to grow up and quit doing those kind of things or these kids are so young that they’re gonna make mistakes and that’s just how it is to a certain extent, but they’re hungry, they want to get better and they will be get better cause they’re working hard to overcome the inexperience, and of course his old stand by, they’re getting better every day. It has just become like a broken record to me. I’ll quit rambling and ranting now. GO HOOSIERS BEAT THE TERPS !!