1. Northwestern is currently enjoying a three-game win streak, after 10 straight B1G losses. What has prompted this late-season turnaround for the Wildcats, who won by 21 against Penn State over the weekend?
Zach: There have been two big things that have prompted this turnaround. The return of Nathan Taphorn has really helped on the offensive end. After missing several games with a foot injury, Taphorn has come back and provided great minutes as a stretch four and overall offensive threat off the bench, something the Wildcats severely lacked without him. Secondly, Chris Collins has switched to a 2-3 zone as the primary defense, something that has helped the Wildcats limit penetration and kick outs for wide open threes. Northwestern really struggled with quicker guards who made the defense collapse and leave shooters open. Now they don't have that problem.
2. Bryant McIntosh is an Indiana kid, and he grew up an hour and a half east of Bloomington in Greensburg. We've seen other players from the state have big games against the Hoosiers already this season (i.e. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Zac Irvin) - could McIntosh be next?
Zach: McIntosh only scored five points on Sunday against the Nittany Lions, but he also handed out eight assists. In his two previous games, he had 17 and 18, so it's really hard to predict exactly what he'll do. Against a team like Indiana who likes to push the pace and score, I could see McIntosh in the 12- to 16-point range while adding six assists, which is a very good game in the eyes of Wildcat fans.
3. This undersized IU team has had some trouble with big men this year, and Alex Olah is taller than anyone on Indiana's active roster. Could Olah be poised for a big night on Wednesday, or do you have your reservations?
Zach: The Romanian big man has shown an inability to take advantage of his size this year for a couple of reasons. First, he holds the ball down low (near his waist), which results in a lot of turnovers. Second, he isn't very quick, and his back-to-the-basket game isn't quite as refined as it could be to put it nicely. Him grinding out 10 or 12 points and, more importantly, 7+ rebounds would be key for the hosts. The key for Indiana may be to get him in foul trouble.
4. After almost two seasons, how do Wildcats fans feel about coach Chris Collins? Can he be the guy who will finally get Northwestern to an NCAA Tournament? And who does Collins take after more as a coach - his dad Doug, or his former boss Coach K?
Zach: Chris Collins is certainly trending upward in the mind of Northwestern supporters. He brings energy and enthusiasm to the sidelines. After each game of this current win streak, he has hugged players after the game, and throughout the season he has been very positive. In my mind, he can be the guy to take them dancing in March. It's tough to compare Collins to either coach. He is deeply invested in his team emotionally, much like his father is, but his midseason switch to zone is something Coach K did earlier this year as well. Collins probably fits more of the Coach K mold thanks to his time under Krzyzewski at Duke
5. The following are all Northwestern alums who have faced some form of criticism over the years. Defend one of them: Jerry Springer, Rod Blagojevich, Darren Rovell.
Zach: Rovell has taken criticism for multiple reasons, including a few distasteful tweets and a general feeling that he takes the fun out of sports in his line of work, which examines money and sports and how they interact. He has a reputation for creating controversy over seemingly minor things, and he sometimes seems impersonal with athletes. But the job Rovell does is important. It's eye-opening. He uncovers facts and occurrences that would otherwise fly completely under-the-radar. He works day-in and day-out uncovering some the smallest details about some of the world's biggest stars. Little nuances in a contract. How much their suit costs. How much money a player or coach makes in comparison to a similar player or coach. His Twitter account sheds light on a lot of interesting stuff that combines sports and finances, and leads to thought-provoking conversation amongst his 571,000+ followers.
6. The old light purple court of Welsh-Ryan Arena was the subject of much derision from opposing fans, but that has now been replaced by a much fresher paint job this year. What prompted the change, and how is Welsh-Ryan Arena as a place to catch a game?
Zach: Northwestern needed a new court, plain and simple, and they needed upgrades off it. Look at this old scoreboard. Also, pads were added to the back of seats for better comfort. It has a new feeling. Northwestern needed a change simply to keep up with the facilities of its competitors, and the new court has a sharp, fresh look to it. Welsh-Ryan can be a great gameday venue, or it can be pretty dead depending on the day. On weekends, the student section usually fills both of its allotted areas, and against Penn State, the football players even came to support, rocking helmets and practice gear. Still, W-R is often 50/50 home and away fans. Iowa probably had the majority of fans last weekend, but that created a charged atmosphere for a really exciting game, which was kind of cool. On a weeknight, especially for games that start at 6:00, the crowd is pretty small and quiet. Could Welsh-Ryan be louder? Sure. But on most weekends, you'll find a pretty good atmosphere.
7. Football talk: After two straight 5-7 seasons, is coach Pat Fitzgerald on the hot seat next season? And how does Northwestern's recruiting class look after National Signing Day?
Zach: Fitzgerald, or "Fitz" as he's known around the Northwestern campus, is probably not on the hot seat headed into next season, but his seat is definitely a little bit warmer after two straight seasons without a bowl. There were no changes to the staff after some people were calling for offensive coordinator Mick McCall's head after last season. Fitzgerald is still signed to a huge contract, however, so he's likely safe for at the very least this year. Northwestern brought in a pretty big recruiting class that included five wide receivers, which is a position of need. This class probably only has a handful of guys who will contribute this coming year, but it adds another layer of talent for the future.
8. Prediction time: Who wins on Wednesday in Welsh-Ryan Arena, and by how much?
Zach: Northwestern sometimes struggles with teams that like to push the tempo, and they have trouble defending opposing guards. Indiana has a bevy of guards who can score. I'd look for Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon, Jr. and/or Robert Johnson to have big games. If Indiana can hit threes and extend the zone, they'll have a great chance to win. But Northwestern is scrappy, and they love playing the spoiler role. They're full of confidence, and I think this game will be close. I'll go 71-65 Indiana, with Ferrell hitting a couple big shots down the stretch to put the Wildcats away.
Thanks, Zach! The Hoosiers and Wildcats face off tonight at Welsh-Ryan Arena, starting at 7pm on BTN.