The Northwestern game.

Northwestern Wildcats
Current record: 10-7 (2-5)
Current RPI: 41
Current Sagarin: 43
Current Pomeroy: 46
2007-08 record: 8-21 (1-17)
2007-08 RPI: 191
2007-08 Sagarin: 190
2007-08 Pomeroy: 158
Series: IU leads 107-43
Last Northwestern win: 1/5/2005 (73-52 in Evanston)
Last IU win: 2/23/2008 (85-82 in Evanston)
Pomeroy scouting report
TV: 8:30 tonight, BTN

Tonight, IU tries once again for its first Big Ten win, and Northwestern tries to preserve its best NCAA Tournament hopes in memory (ever?). The Wildcats' record is unimpressive, but they have played a tough conference schedule to date, and their computer rankings suggest that they will be in bubble range if they win out at home and perhaps steal a road game (most likely in Bloomington, where NU hasn't won since 1968). A win tonight probably is crucial to Northwestern's postseason hopes. While IU has dominated the overall series and won 26 in a row against Northwestern from 1988 to 2003, NU has been much better at home, winning three of the last five in Evanston.

As always, NU is one of the slowest-paced teams in the country. Their offense is the same as it has been under Bill Carmody: NU shoots well, particularly from behind the arc (38 percent), takes care of the ball (17.6 %, #23), doesn't rebound well on either side of the ball. It's striking just how similar NU's tempo-free numbers look across good seasons and bad. The main distinction between this season and last season for NU is on the defensive side of the ball. NU is always good at forcing turnovers, and this season is no exception (25% defensive TO percentage, #21 nationally). The main difference this year has been 2 point field goal percentage. NU still allows its opponents to make 35 percent of their three point shots, but NU is holding opponents to 43.8 percent from two point range, good enough for #46 nationally.

Northwestern, like many slow paced teams (including Wisconsin) is always labeled as a good defensive team by those who haven't seen the tempo-free light. In most seasons under Carmody, the defense has lagged the offense. For once, however, the label fits this year. Even without any rebounding to speak of, NU's 47% effective field goal percentage and 25 percent turnover percentage lead to an adjusted offensive efficiency that ranks NU #35 nationally.

In previous weeks, I have noted that IU is better equipped to compete with perimeter-oriented teams than with teams with a strong inside presence. That means that on paper, IU should be competitive, relative to this season, with NU. The problem with that is that despite a very three pointer-oriented offense, NU is huge. Five of NU's top seven scorers, including leading scorer and three point threat Kevin Coble, are 6-8 or taller. Like Ohio State's Jon Diebler did, I worry that NU is going to get a bunch of easy three point looks.

Pomeroy gives IU a 4 percent chance of winning this game. That's hard to accept at an area where IU has lost only 6 times in the last 37 years. Still, IU made some progress against Minnesota and hopefully can continue that trend and hope for some cold shooting by the Wildcats.

Be sure to check out NU's Chamber of Commerce, Lake the Posts, for coverage.


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