The Matchup: Indiana (10-20) vs Northwestern (19-12)
Location: Conseco Fieldhouse (Indianaoplis, IN)
TV: ESPN2 (3:30 PM March 12th, 2010)
Radio: WGN AM 720
Fun Fact: Northwestern and Indiana have never met in the Big Ten Tournament.
About the Game
I’m not really sure I can offer any insight in this post that I didn’t provide in the pregame post for Saturday’s game or the postgame Saturday evening. I think we all understand that Indiana beat Northwestern on Saturday because the Wildcats played no defense, especially against IU guard Jordan Hulls, and because NU starting playing play ground basketball and chucked up 42 threes. I swear at times some of NU’s players seem like the guys you would dread having on a rec league team because all they want to do is shoot threes.
To be honest, though, as poor as NU’s offense was from a basketball fundamentals standpoint on Saturday, it was good enough to win. When a team scores 69 points in regulation, and 80 points overall, they should win a game. The problem is the Wildcats didn’t play defense. I’ve explained repeatedly my problem with the way NU plays their matchup zone or man-to-man. Basically, NU switches all the time and makes no effort to fight through screens. I think this leads to lazy play which is apparent when players drive the lane or make entry passes with no pressure. My gut tells me NU is better off playing 1-3-1 because that often at least starts to fire the team up. Jeremy Nash can be out front and start tipping passes and before you know it the Wildcats have caused a boatload of turnovers. Of course, if NU can’t convert on TOs, as they couldn’t Saturday, it doesn’t matter how many they cause. The other thing is that if NU does play 1-3-1, they MUST find Hulls. After what he did the other day, he’ll probably be so excited to see NU’s zone that he won’t be able to sleep on Wednesday night. I also wouldn’t forget about Devan Dumes and Derek Elston from deep if I was NU’s coaching staff, but Hulls did account for eight of IU’s ten made threes on Saturday.
Aside from playing defense for 40 minutes, NU needs to get a good inside effort on both ends of the floor if they are to win. Luka Mirkovic needs to score points, as he did when NU beat IU in Evanston, and he and his teammates must stop IU for crashing the offensive glass. Indiana is second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding, so it isn’t a shock they managed to outrebound Northwestern, but that still doesn’t make it acceptable. NU has quality players inside with Mirkovic and Shurna. Also, Jeremy Nash and Drew Crawford can rebound as well. There is no reason other than effort for Indiana to totally dominate the glass.
On offense, I already said NU needs a good effort for Mikrovic. They also need a good effort from either Drew Crawford or Alex Marcotullio. Both freshmen have really struggled of late, but need to setup now. Crawford has been hurt, but Marcotullio is simply a headcase. He made shots against Chicago State when their wasn’t pressure, but he choked on two chances to give NU the win in the final minute Saturday. To be frank, I expected more from the guy who buried threes to seal wins against Notre Dame (when he was supposed to pass) and N.C. State (moments after he got T-ed up). If Marcotullio or Crawford “flushes” their troubles and plays to their ability NU will win.
This game will be a test of mental toughness more than physical toughness for Northwestern. The Wildcats are the better team and if they can focus on just playing basketball they will win. However, to this point NU hasn’t impressed me as a mentally tough team, especially away from home. They certainly don’t follow the mantras of NU football coach Pat Fitzgerald and “flush” mistakes and concentrate on W.I.N or What’s Important Now. Instead, they seem to let every little mistake fester into disaster. Sometimes they get things together after trouble, but often times it is too late. That was the case in losses at Minnesota and Wisconsin. Will Thursday afternoon be different? I actually think it will be. NU might see a lot of red in Conseco, but it isn’t a true road game. It’s a neutral site game played at an odd time. Hopefully as a result NU’s attitude will be similar to the way they played in the Chicago Invitational Challenge when they left the friendly confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena and won two big games. Northwestern, 66 Indiana, 60