The Matchup: Northwestern (19-11) @ Indiana (9-20)
Location: Assembly Hall (Bloomington, IN)
TV: Big Ten Network (11:00 AM CT Saturday March 6th, 2010)
Radio: WGN AM 720
Fun Fact: Northwestern is looking for the program’s first 20 win season.
About the Game
In some ways it seems and lifetime ago and in some it seems just yesterday, but it has been 4 months since the 2009-10 college basketball season started. This Northwestern squad has been through a lot this season from the low of losing Kevin Coble for year to the high of beating #6 Purdue. Now, the Wildcats regular season portion of 2009-10 will come to a close in Bloomington, Indiana. Their postseason portion will begin Thursday about a half hour north in Indianapolis.
If the Wildcats can beat the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday they will make history in a number of ways. NU will win 20 games for the first time and will have 4 straight wins over Indiana for the first time since the early 1930s. In addition, the Wildcats are trying for their second straight win inside Assembly Hall. That might not seem as significant a mark, but before last season Northwestern had never beaten IU in that building.
In order to get the victory, NU must play defense. Their defense has been questionable overall, but it has been particularly atrocious on the road in the Big Ten. NU played primarily the 1-3-1 zone on Wednesday against Chicago State which makes me think they’ll play the same to start on Saturday. If that is the case, NU must extend out and get into passing lanes. If they do not pressure the Hoosier guards between the rings, then Indiana will be able to easily enter the ball inside to forward Christian Watford (12.0ppg, 5.9 rpg). Penn State took advantage of soft NU defense to score inside almost at will. Even Chicago State got some early easy looks which couldn’t have pleased Head Coach Bill Carmody. Perhaps the best news for Northwestern is that Indiana isn’t loaded with great inside players. However, it’s not just post players that can score if NU’s zone gets soft and lazy (as it has much too often). Quick guards can take advantage and get into the lane as well. Indiana has guard Verdall Jones III (14.7 ppg, 27.3% 3PT) who scored 28 points in the two teams’ last meeting and is very good getting inside off the dribble. If NU is in the 1-3-1, I think Indiana will work both Watford and Jones inside using their various skills.
If NU’s zone is good enough that IU must shoot from the outside, that should help NU. Indiana makes only 33.6% of their three pointers as a team. For what it’s worth, the Hoosiers will look primarily at guards Jordan Hulls (37.3% 3PT) and Devan Dumes (31.3% 3PT) when they need threes. Both are streaky three point shooters, but NU must close out on them. They cannot let these guys get their feet set. IU also has forward Derek Elston who while he doesn’t shoot many threes, can knock them down. Right now, the big man makes 36.4% of his treys.
On offense, Northwestern must reestablish their inside game. This has disappeared recently, but when the ‘Cats are successful they get baskets from Luka Mirkovic in the post and John Shurna sets up his own outside by attacking the basket. NU would also get a boost if Drew Crawford were healthy as he can also serve as an inside option both off the dribble and posting smaller guards. If NU does find someway to get an inside game, they have a great chance to equal their convincing win over the Hoosiers recorded February 7th.
Northwestern is the better team in this matchup, but I think anyone who has watched the Wildcats has to be wary of picking them to win on the road. Northwestern just hasn’t been a good road team since the 1st of December. If NU wants to win in the postseason, though, they must win on the road. They’ll be at a neutral site in Indy, but unless NU falls to the CBI they’ll be playing true road games in the NIT. Therefore, NU needs to learn to win on the road. I think this is as good of time as any to do so, because if they can’t win this one I have my doubts about them winning a game in the Big Ten Tourney. Northwestern, 71 Indiana, 68