Hoosiers take on Northwestern today

Reggie Hearn, shown diving for a loose ball, is Northwestern's leading scorer at 14.1 points per game. Hearn attended Snider High School in Fort Wayne. - David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Indiana travels to Evanston for a 1 p.m. tip

Indiana comes in to today's 1 pm. game at Northwestern -- which will be televised on the Big Ten Network -- with its fanbase's collective hand hovering right over the panic button while the Wildcats are riding high following a 14-point win at No. 23 Illinois.

The Hoosiers (15-2, 3-1) are clearly the superior team, a 12-point favorite according to Vegas, but this is a scary one for a couple of reasons:

  • It's a road game
  • Indiana is coming off its worst 60 minutes of the year
  • It's a road game
  • Northwestern has two wins -- at Baylor and at Illinois -- that are as good as any of Indiana's wins this year
  • Did I mention it's a road game.
  • Northwestern is similar to the two teams who have beaten Indiana
  • IT'S A FREAKING ROAD GAME
I have officially talked myself in to "anything goes" mode, where I won't be surprised by anything that happens today.

I can picture Indiana coming out like its dreams of a Big Ten title are on the line -- which they may be -- and trouncing the Wildcats, who lost 70-50 at home to Iowa before getting the win in Champaign.

I can see Indiana continuing its poor play from the last three halves of basketball, getting in a hole early and never climbing out of it as Northwestern has 5-foot-9 white dudes raining threes while Mike Wilbon texts Tony Kornheiser "I told you this was our year!!!"

I could even see Jordan Hulls staying in front of someone defensively. OK, maybe I can't see anything happening.

After such a fun, unexpected, joyous season a year ago, this year has been disappointing. It all comes down to expectations. We, as Indiana fans, had no idea last year was coming. We were pumped for every victory. We appreciated winning like never before. This time around, we expected Indiana to be undefeated right now, and we're picking apart a win over No. 9 Minnesota. What a difference a year makes.

Indiana isn't the potentially-run-the-table juggernaut we thought it may be, but the Hoosiers aren't the floundering, fifth-best team in the Big Ten as some would have you believe. They're probably in the middle, and they have a little bugaboo with teams who slow the game down and load the court with shooters.

Today, Indiana faces a Northwestern team which slows the game down and loads the court with shooters.

The Wildcats (11-7, 3-2) average 63.4 possessions per game, about the same as Wisconsin (62.7). Northwestern -- who is without Drew Crawford (shoulder), its best player, for the rest of the season -- is shooting 37 percent from the 3-point line and averaging 8.2 made 3-balls per game.

Reggie Hearn, a native of Fort Wayne, is Northwestern's top scorer at 14.1 points per game. Hearn is hitting 41 percent (25 of 61) from beyond the arc and pulling down 4.7 rebounds per contest. Dave Sobolewski (11.4) and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (9.1) hover around the 10-point mark. Sobolewski is connecting on 41 percent of his 3-point tries.

Indiana dropped a disappointing home game to Wisconsin, 64-59, on Tuesday. It was the Hoosiers' worst 40-minute performance of the season and one where Indiana never really got to play like Indiana likes to play.

Wisconsin -- who looked like your local high school team for 35 minutes in a loss at Iowa last night -- bottled up the Hoosiers' transition game and defended the 3-point line extremely well, executing the two things a team must do to beat Indiana. All of the sudden, the Hoosiers had to generate offense in the halfcourt, and that was a problem.

Northwestern, albeit with lesser personnel than Butler or Wisconsin, will attempt to do the same thing. And just like Butler and Wisconsin, the Wildcats won't have to play out of character to do it.

The most frustrating thing about watching Indiana play a game against a methodical, halfcourt team is that I feel like I don't really get to watch Indiana play. It's like watching Secretariat race on three legs. The Hoosiers want to run and play a free-flowing game where it's OK if they take a questionable shot because they're going to get the ball back in 20 seconds. When Indiana has to play defense for the entirety of the shot clock and cherish every possession, it's not quite the same team.

So Indiana gets struggles against teams like Butler and Wisconsin.... Guess what: EVERYONE DOES!!!! Those teams are effective because they don't allow their opponents to get into a comfort zone. They're especially effective against really talented teams because those teams typically like to run, rack up possessions and lengthen the game.

Halfcourt-based teams shorten the game and limit possessions. It's the equivalent of Indiana's baseball team playing the Yankees in a five-inning game. Obviously, the Yankees would probably steamroll the Hoosiers, but Indiana would have a better chance to pull off the upset in a five-inning game rather than a nine-inning contest.

Cody Zeller is leading the Hoosiers in scoring (16.9) and rebounding (7.9). Victor Oladipo is hitting 67 percent of his shots, including 50 percent from 3, and averaging 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds. Christian Watford (12.8), Jordan Hulls (11.2) and Will Sheehey (10.7) also average double figures.

Sheehey -- and the rest of the bench -- has been an enigma lately. Sheehey has played 33 minutes in the last two games, and over that stretch he's posted a pair of goose eggs while misfiring on all seven of his shots.

For this Indiana team, the regular season is all about preparing for the tournament. Indiana needs to improve against teams that won't allow them to run and gun. The only way to get more comfortable in that style of game is by playing more games against halfcourt teams, which they get to do today.

My advice to Indiana fans: join me in the "anything goes" mode. That way a poor performance can't ruin the final hours of your weekend.

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