The Matchup: Indiana (9-12) @ Northwestern (15-7)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: Big Ten Network (1:30 PM Sunday February 7th, 2010)
Radio: WGN 720AM
Fun Fact: Indiana’s roster features two players who played high school ball in Illinois (Verdell Jones III and Matt Roth) and NU’s roster features two players who played high school ball in Indiana (Luka Mirkovic and Reggie Hearn).
About the Game
Indiana is coming off a very close loss to Purdue on Thursday. Verdell Jones III had a shot at the buzzer which would have tied the game, but he missed. Jones said he thought he was right on, and he was very close, but it wasn’t enough. After watching IU play that game and their game against Illinois (also a last second loss), I feel that Indiana has improved significantly over the course of the Big Ten season.
Indiana’s offense features Jeremiah Rivers (son of Doc Rivers) who plays guard and is very good at setting up his teammates. Rivers only scored 6.4ppg and is a bad shooter (no made threes, and 53.9% from the line), but he has 86 assists against only 62 turnovers and is very good at driving the lane and kicking to shooters. NU needs to try and prevent drives from Rivers and Verdell Jones III (14.3 ppg, 24.5% three), who is a good finisher at the basket, but also a less than outstanding shooter. Indiana’s good shooters are guards Jordan Hulls (5.7ppg, 38.4% 3PT) and Devan Dumes (7.2ppg, 35.1% 3PT). NU fans might recall Dumes had a big game at Welsh-Ryan last year. Dumes isn’t a starter this season, but if NU decides to play zone he’ll no doubt see the court quickly. If NU doesn’t play zone, aside from stopping Rivers and Jones attacking the basket, the Wildcats will also need to stop 6-9 forward Christian Watford. Watford will be among Drew Crawford’s stiffest competition for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Right now, the Alabama native averages 12.2ppg and 6.0rpg. Those rebounding numbers lead his team. At 6-9, Watford is smaller than either Luka Mirkovic or Kyle Rowley. However, he is more athletic. That’s why I believe John Shurna should get the defensive assignment on him if NU goes man-to-man. If NU does go man-to-man, I like the matchups they’ll have. Michael “Juice” Thompson can guard Hulls. Jeremy Nash can guard either Rivers or Jones with Drew Crawford taking the other one. Mirkovic will take the 6-9 248-pound forward Tom Pritchard and Shurna gets Watford. Some of those matchups might be even, but I don’t see one where NU is at a disadvantage.
On offense, I’d like to see NU get the ball inside like they did Tuesday night. Just like he did against DeShawn Sims, Luka Mirkovic has a height advantage over Watford and Pritchard. If he gets inside position, he should be able score easy baskets like he did against Michigan. Rowley should also be able to take advantage as long as he can finish at the hoop. From the IU defensive point of view, Tom Crean has a tough choice. Who will he use to guard Juice Thompson? Rivers seems a good choice, but that forces Jordan Hulls to guard either Nash or Crawford which isn’t favorable for IU. This might lead Crean to playing zone, but with NU’s shooters that might not be a good choice either.
It is that defensive conundrum for IU which I believe gives NU the game’s best on court advantage. Another advantage for NU should be playing at home. IU is 1-3 on the road while NU has defeated every non-ranked team they’ve played in Welsh-Ryan this year. Still, I hope NU gets a little more fan support than they did Tuesday. Although the Hoosiers haven’t been playing well, you can beat their rather large Chicago-alumni base will have a number of fans in Evanston Sunday afternoon. It would help if NU’s fan support neutralized any psychological lift a large red-clad crowd gave IU. Because the game is Sunday and well before Super Sunday pregame really starts, I do think the NU fans and students will show up. NU also gets the often overlooked advantage of playing Tuesday while IU played Thursday. This often gives teams a little extra life, but it's an even bigger advantage here because the IU freshmen get less time to prep for playing defense against the Princeton Offense for the first time. Northwestern, 68 Indiana, 60