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Game Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

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Indiana heads to Evanston for their final true road game of the season, and the Wildcats are prepared to give the Hoosiers all they can handle.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

GAME INFO:

Who? Northwestern Wildcats (13-14 (4-10), #111 KenPom)  v. Indiana Hoosiers (19-9 (9-6), #43 KenPom)

When? Wednesday, February 25, 7:00 PM, Big Ten Network

Vegas? INDIANA -2.5

Pomeroy? INDIANA by 1, 56% chance of Indiana victory

_______________________________________

The Final Road Test

My how a couple of weeks can change perceptions. Two Sundays ago, Northwestern was on a ten-game losing streak with their last result being a 24-point home loss to Michigan State. That afternoon, the Wildcats knocked off a decent Iowa team in overtime, went out to the Barn and beat Minnesota, and then drubbed Penn State 60-39 back at home last Saturday. The three-game winning streak raised their KenPom profile 29 spots and certainly have the attention of any team preparing to play them, particularly at home.

And the Hoosiers are next in line.

There's a lot of things about Northwestern that should concern Hoosier fans despite the fact they seem to be peaking right now, if that's a term you can use for a team with four conference victories. They have the two qualities that Indiana always seems to struggle to overcome: as they are big (52nd in effective height) and slow (332nd in tempo). The Hoosiers can overcome tempo by dictating the game at their pace, but that can only be done by making shots, which certainly isn't beyond Indiana's capabilities. That said, Northwestern's size, specifically Alex Olah (7'0", 83rd nationally in block%), will make negotiations at the rim difficult, and the Hoosiers will have to adjust to that.

Certainly the version of Hanner Mosquera-Perea that played against Rutgers would be an extraordinary asset in this game, as he gives Indiana an option to win one-on-one battles down low in the post on both offense and defense. Consistency has eluded Perea throughout his career, but the junior could take a big step forward by stringing together two good performances together against conference opponents on the road, no matter where they're ranked in the Big Ten.

Let's see if there is anyone else worth discussing oh wait

INDIANA KID VS. INDIANA ALERT

Bryant McIntosh, hailing from New Castle but played the majority of his high school career at Greensburg, never got an offer from Indiana, but held one from every other school in the state, along with Iowa, Memphis, and others. There is no doubt that the 6-3 point guard with an eFG of 50.0% will go 6-7 from behind the arc in route to 26 points and a handful of dimes, likely the majority of which will be gathered in a furious second-half outburst, as per state law.

Vic Law is another impressive freshman for the Wildcats, who is 6'7" with a decent outside shot (30.6.% 3PT) but a bad 2PT% (42.9%) and turnover rate (21.1%) hurts his overall offensive efficiency. His length and athleticism could certainly cause some issues for Indiana's guards on both ends of the court, which feels like something I'm contractually obligated to say for any guy over 6'6".

And don't forget about Tre Demps, who came off the bench to score 15 points and help Northwestern beat Indiana in Assembly Hall last season, in a game I would argue was the low point for the Hoosiers last season; where they scored only 47 points (in 64 possessions) the game after they achieved their signature win of the season over Wisconsin. Demps remains a dynamic player who can contribute as a scorer and an initiator, giving the Wildcats a decent backcourt to throw against Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Robert Johnson.

HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?

Four Factors
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Offense) 55.9% (11th) 17.4% (57th) 35.1% (49th) 33.9% (256th)
NORTHWESTERN (Defense) 47.8% (127th) 16.0% (332nd) 29.2% (92nd) 33.8% (110th)
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Defense) 50.3% (228th) 16.3% (325th) 31.1% (183rd) 30.2% (37th)
NORTHWESTERN (Offense) 50.0% (125th) 18.3% (107th) 28.7% (256th) 28.4% (344th)

It's not often that Indiana will find themselves playing a team that is even worse at forcing turnovers than they are but that'll be the case on Wednesday night. Indiana has done a great job of protecting the ball this year, particularly when compared to last season, and should be able to do the same in Evanston. In the game against Rutgers, Indiana let the Scarlet Knights hang around for much longer than they probably should of due to an insatiable urge to hand the ball over to them time and time again. Northwestern will be tough enough to knock off at home as is without granting them extra chances.

It helps that, while Northwestern is average at defending shots, they are 287th in the country (14th in conference play) at defending beyond the arc. Which, if you didn't know, is actually a shot that Indiana likes to take, on occasion. In conference play, 37.8% of Indiana's points come from the three-point line, good for first in the conference. They're much better defending inside the arc, at 48th in the country, giving this writer zero reasons to believe Indiana shouldn't just fire up a three on every possession.

Just kidding, but only sort of.

Stuff to Watch For:

  • Collin Hartman's health: Tom Crean touched on Hartman's injury briefly during his radio show, referring to the sophomore forward as "sore" but offering no other insight. Hartman banged his non-surgically repaired knee and limped off the court to the bench, where he remained for the rest of the game. It remains to be seen if holding him out was precautionary or if the injury would keep him out regardless, and how long he has been kept out. If I had to guess, I would think he'd be available off the bench against Northwestern, as I would expect Hanner Mosquera-Perea has reclaimed his starting spot anyway. UPDATE: as of Tuesday morning, Hartman still hadn't practice, so I would highly doubt he plays.
  • HEY LET'S USE JEREMIAH APRIL A BUNCH HE HIT A SHOT AGAINST RUTGERS AND I THINK- The freshman 7-footer's appearance against Rutgers sent many Hoosier fans into a tizzy, and him chipping in two buckets, two rebounds, and a block only fueled the fire that he should be getting big minutes down the stretch. While I'm certainly not opposed to throwing him out there against AJ Hammons if a third meeting with Purdue occurs in the conference tournament (since we're pretty much out of ideas in that department) I feel confident that if April had shown to be deserving of / healthy for any minutes beyond garbage time against Rutgers, this coaching staff would have likely given him a shot, especially after Hanner Mosquera-Perea went down.. There's a lot of mystery surrounding him, as he was not highly recruited, missed a lot of the offseason and regular season with injuries and has, on at least one occasion, had his work ethic called out by Tom Crean. He remains a project player until further notice.
  • Can the Hoosiers build on their defensive momentum? Yes, Rutgers is an abysmal basketball team, particularly on offense, but it has been a long time since this defense made a bad offense look bad. Northwestern will provide a stiffer test, as they're 90th in offensive efficiency, but can Indiana use the confidence they gained from holding Rutgers to 0.78 PPP and play somewhat decently against the Wildcats? Indiana could easily outscore the 90th ranked offense that's playing like the 90th ranked offense, it's when the Hoosiers allow teams to score as efficiently as Wisconsin that they start running into issues. Perea helps out down low, but all guards not named Yogi Ferrell must get better at keeping their guy in front of them.