After a week of preparation, just a few weeks after losing to Northwestern on a flurry of three pointers, the same thing happened last night. Northwestern made 11 of 24 three pointers, including 7 in the first half, and held on for a six point win. IU managed to tie the game a couple of times in the second half, but never pulled ahead.
This reminded me quite a bit of the Northern Iowa, Colorado, and Penn State games, where IU spotted the opposition big first half leads, played well enough in the second half to either tie or take the lead, but could not finish the game. Despite what anyone might say, this is a meaningfully better team that last year. They have been competitive on a much more regular basis than last season. Unfortunately, playing well enough to win at the end of games has been a major weakness for this team. In 7 of IU's 15 losses, IU has led or been tied in the second half, and that does not count games against Boston College, Colorado, and Michigan, where IU came within three or fewer points at some point late in the second half. Of the 9 games decided by 6 or fewer points, IU is 3-6. Close games are not a forte for this team. The Pomeroy ratings back this up, suggesting that IU's luck is #344 out of 345 Division I teams. Of course, Ken Pomeroy is quick to admit that "luck" is simply what he calls it. Sometimes that's all it is, but some teams simply don't play well in close end-game situations. I tend to think that IU falls into the latter category. Defense has told the story for this team. Here is a link to IU's Pomeroy game plan organized by defensive efficiency. Defensive efficiency has been a perfect predictor of IU's results. If they allow more than one point per possession, they lose. If they don't, they win. Effective field goal percentage on defense is nearly as strongly correlated.
As for the Northwestern game itself, I don't have a lot to say. They were not dominant on the interior, but as in the prior game, hit a bunch of open three pointers. IU's offense was not half bad, shooting exactly 50 percent in both halves. IU wasn't as effective as usual at home from three point range, shooting only 4-13 from that range. They played well enough to win offensively, but were exploited again defensively.
Well, it's on to the Purdue game. There is no good reason to think that the Hoosiers have a chance, but it's all they have left to play for, so we can hope that the team and coaching staff find a way to pull it together.