Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Game 26: Indiana @ Northwestern

This is Welsh-Ryan Rambling's preview for Wednesday's Northwestern at Indiana game. Following the game, Welsh-Ryan Rambling's will have its usual postgame wrap up, however, be sure to check back on Thursday for an analysis of NU's postseason chances. As the game at IU is critcal in forecasting NU postseason chances, I did not want to discuss those possibilities too soon.

The Matchup: Northwestern (14-11) @ Indiana (6-20)

Location: Assembly Hall (Bloomington, IN)

TV: Big Ten Network (5:30 PM CT)
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Fun Fact: 5 of Indiana’s 6 wins this season have come at home.

About the Game
The first time Indiana and Northwestern matched up this season a battle of outside shooting finished with Craig Moore sinking two free throws and Kevin Coble stealing IU’s last gasp pass to give NU the win. The game was a great example of the effort put forth each night by Head Coach Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Despite their poor record, the Hoosiers play as hard, or harder, than any team in the conference. That effort has to be respected and both Crean and his players deserve praise. Another group that deserves praise is the IU fans who have packed Assembly Hall regularly despite seeing some, at times, downright terrible basketball from their home team. Although they have only a 1-13 record in the Big Ten, Indiana is clearly getting better. It has been clear recently that Indiana will come out very aggressive against any opponent. As a result, IU has hung tough against even the Big Ten’s top squads for at least a half. Generally, their undoing is turnovers. TOs were also the difference the first time they played Northwestern. In a 77-75 loss, IU shot 50% from the field, but turned the ball over 22 times. A key to pulling a home upset over NU will be reducing that turnover total. Playing at home might help, but it is no guarantee. Coach Crean’s squad is very young and does make mistakes. Although Northwestern has moved away from exclusively using the 1-3-1, Bill Carmody should remember how Devan Dumes and his teammates got off to a hot start in Evanston against the 2-3 zone. Dumes will be a key player to watch in this matchup. He leads IU in scoring with 13.4 points per game, but since returning from a suspension his shot has been off.

Another item which could decide the game is NU’s health. NU’s recent struggles with the flu have kept starters on the bench or made them ineffective. It was a shame the flu hit when it did, because at Minnesota was a winnable game looking strictly at the matchup on paper. However, the fact is the flu isn’t an excuse. Besides, except for one obvious expectation, NU has played like they were sick every time they’ve gone on the road this year. If Northwestern wants to make an impact in any postseason tournament they need to show the ability to win on the road. Getting a win at Indiana would go a long way to proving this. However, if NU’s top players are still ill it will be tough. It is especially important Luka Mirkovic and Kevin Coble improve their health. NU needs to pull Indiana center Tom Pritchard out of the lane. Also, if Tom Crean wants to play man-to-man his team will have trouble with a healthy Coble. His taller players (Pritchard and Taber) aren’t as quick as NU’s star and his quicker players (Dumes and Verdall Jones III) are several inches shorter. If IU plays zone, NU needs Craig Moore and Coble both to play like they did vs OSU.

This game is tough to predict based on NU’s health. I don’t want to use illness as an excuse, nevertheless we have to acknowledge that it is hard to play basketball if you have an upper respiratory infection. Breathing is important to running around the court. If will be especially important if Kevin Coble is the game’s key player as I expect him to be. NU needs Coble to deploy his full arsenal of shots (especially 3s), however, to do that Coble needs his legs. If this illness lingers with Coble like it did with Luka Mirkovic NU’s star might not have those needed legs. For IU, Devan Dumes needs to get back on track. I don’t think there is really anything wrong with Dumes, but perhaps he has been putting extra pressure on himself since coming back for his suspension. I’m predicting a narrow NU win, but with the number of variables in play Wednesday night I acknowledge this game could really go either way. Northwestern, 68 Indiana, 67

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