What should be the easiest game of the conference season takes place tomorrow afternoon at 2:30. Pomeroy gives the Hoosiers an 88% chance of victory and with the way that Indiana is suddenly playing, that should feel like pretty low odds against a squad that's playing as poorly as Northwestern. Still, Indiana has to go out and execute or things can head south. No game in the Big Ten is automatic, so what does Indiana need to do to make sure everything goes according to plan?
Well first off, Indiana has to keep up their sudden ability to take care of the ball and execute an offense. Since about the 9 minutes mark of the first half against Penn State, this squad has been the polar opposite of what we've seen all year. The Hoosiers are still second to last in turnover % in the Big Ten, but the big reason for that comes from their 29% and 23% rates in the first two games of the conference schedule. Since said mark in the Penn State game the Hoosiers have only turned the ball over 14 times in 113 possessions. Or a turnover rate of 12.4%. That number there would be good enough for second in the conference. So the Hoosiers have to keep that good decision making mojo going.
Continuing on with the good mojo should be Indiana's new found offensive flow. In the game against Wisconsin especially, but also in the back half against Penn State, Indiana's offense was moving. It was fluid. Sets were being run and it wasn't just a bunch of guys staring at each other not sure what to do. It feels good to see a team executing the way they have. I have a sneaking suspicion that the improved rotation has quite a bit to do with the lessened playing time of Jeremy Hollowell and Troy Williams. Both have great talent but both have had big struggles with offensive consistency and it only takes one guy getting lost on offense to cause major breakdowns.
Due to the increased offensive flow and the emergence of a confident yet controlled Stan Robinson I think we're going to continue to see Williams's minutes decline. He'll still likely start, but the leash will be short with a weapon like Stan ready to come off the bench at a moments notice. I also get the feeling that more Austin Etherington will bite into those chunk of minutes as well. Austin doesn't offer the threat that Troy or Jeremy does, but he plays energetic and smart defense while keeping the offense running. He's been very strong over Indiana's stretch of good play.
When looking specifically at Northwestern, we see that their offense is terrible. They can't shoot, they're an average ball protection team, they're one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the nation and they don't get to the line. That's 3 of Pomeroy's 4 Big Factors where Northwestern isn't just not good, they're downright bad at them. The Hoosiers defense should look very good with Northwestern coming to them tomorrow. Just not a lot of firepower there.
On the defensive end of things Northwestern is much better, but still not great. They don't force turnovers, they allow quite a bit at the free throw line, and are average at crashing the defensive boards. What is a little different though is that we aren't going to see the classic 1-3-1 Northwestern zone that we've become accustomed to in the past. With Chris Collins at the helm, Northwestern is a higher pressure man to man team. They probably suffer from that at the moment due to lack of athletes, but in the future when Collins can recruit a little more they should be quite a terror.
Norhtwestern is likely to be without Junior guard David Sobolewski tomorrow which means that Northwestern is going to go only about 6 deep. Tre Demps will be forced into the PG role while Northwestern throws a considerable amount of size at us from everywhere else on the floor. Sophomore Alex Olah at 7-0 has seemed to have found a better role in his second year of college. He still doesn't rebound very well for a 7 footer, but he picks his shots well and has found some shot blocking talent.
JerShon Cobb, Drew Crawford and Sanjay Lumpkin also offer guys in the starting lineup that measure in around 6-5. They're a big team, but not in the sense that they're running out 3 6-9+ guys. The average is high though and I expect to see them try and post our guards in the paint on several occasions to try and get easy buckets. Still their poor shooting should allow Indiana to play great defense by having the ability to sag off and defend the lane. If Indiana can protect the drive then this game should end pretty quickly.
I expect just that. I want to see Indiana come out quick and focused and remain that way through the entire 40 minutes. Pomeroy is calling for an 11 point win, but I want more. 20 points would make me feel very good and if they do it in an attractive, that's what basketball is supposed to look like kind of way then watch out Big Ten, Happy learned how to putt. Here's to an uneventful game that makes us feel better about where this season is headed when the game is over.