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Northwestern Wildcats at Indiana Hoosiers Game Preview: Hoosiers look to wrap up the week with a clean sweep

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If Indiana has any dreams of making the NCAA Tournament, they must mop the floor with the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Who? Northwestern Wildcats (11-7 (2-3), #61 KenPom) at Indiana Hoosiers (10-7 (3-2) #90 KenPom)

When? Sunday, January 14th at 4:30 p.m. EST – CBS

Where? Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana

Vegas? TBA

Pomeroy? Indiana by 1, 53% chance of victory

__________________________

In the last week, the Hoosiers did just enough to leave themselves hilariously not-dead in the race to the Big Ten’s top four. They gutted out a 4-point win over a reeling Minnesota team and held off a plucky Penn State squad in Assembly Hall to move to 3-2 and find themselves in a 3-way tie for 4th in the Big Ten.

Which leads us all to ask: IS INDIANA GOOD? The answer is, no, probably not. But maybe we can re-frame that question to get a more satisfactory answer— IS INDIANA GOOD ENOUGH TO ATTAIN A RESPECTABLE CONFERENCE RECORD IN A GOD-AWFUL BIG TEN?

Well ... maybe!

The Big Ten is terrible, y’all. It’s so bad that the Big Ten Network has morphed into a shameless propaganda wing, utilizing chunks of time in each halftime broadcast to pontificate about how the Big Ten is “actually good and you’re not watching enough practices to know that.” Last night, in the midst of a 20-point Hawkeye comeback on the Illini, commentator Stephen Bardo started hollering about how both of the teams were really good and that people wouldn’t know that because they “don’t have a number next to their name.” It’s clearly a point of emphasis for BTN on-air talent to start CALLIN’ OUT HATERZ.

The conference’s efficiency margin is 4th in the Power 5, just sneaking by the Pac 12 to not be dead last. For whatever reason, it’s tough for some people to admit that the conference is having a down year. The Big Ten has two great teams, a couple decent ones, and then it craters from there.

Speaking of that crater ...

FOUR FACTORS

- eFG% TO% Off. Reb % FT Rate
- eFG% TO% Off. Reb % FT Rate
INDIANA (#98 adj. offense) 51.2% (152nd) 18.3% (136th) 32.3% (86th) 36.6% (102nd)
PURDUE (#10 adj. defense) 44.5% (10th) 19.2% (150th) 28.2% (137th) 22.7% (4th)
-
PURDUE (#3 adj. offense) 59.8% (4th) 16.7% (47th) 29.9% (145th) 35.0% (142nd)
INDIANA (#110 adj. defense) 51.2% (197th) 20.1% (105th) 29.3% (196th) 31.8% (138th)

[inhales deeply] I love the smell of deafening mediocrity in the morning.

The Wildcats are coming off their best win of the season— a thorough disassembling of an adrift Minnesota squad. Their second best win this season? #98 Illinois. Their third? #101 DePaul. They’ve also been saddled with a couple of bad losses, #106 Georgia Tech and #81 Nebraska (they were without Bryant McIntosh for this one). While Chris Collins guided Northwestern to the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament appearance last season, they are firmly behind the eight-ball to get their second.

Chris Collins’ squad struggles, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, to get buckets. Their team eFG% is a tick below Indiana and their well-documented struggles to shoot the ball. However, while the output is similar, the inputs are not. Northwestern’s struggles come from inside the arc (48.3%, 222nd) while they are above-average outside of it (36.6%, 102nd), an inverse of Indiana’s shooting struggles. Just look at the point distribution for these two teams:

NORTHWESTERN: 34.7% (95th) of their points from threes, 46.0% (277th) from twos

INDIANA: 24.3% (320th) of their points from threes, 56.2% (29th) from twos

So, yeah, some stylistic differences here.

Personnel-wise, Northwestern has similar size to Indiana, as their starting lineup goes 6-3, 6-5, 6-7, 6-8, and 6-8. Vic Law presents the biggest matchup issue for the Hoosiers, as his size/athleticism combo doesn’t have an easy answer on Indiana’s roster. He’s a silky-smooth athlete standing at 6-7, who is a strong shooter from distance (42.5% 3PT) and from the line (85.7%). His offensive rating leads the team.

In second? Dererk Pardon. His incoming matchup with Juwan Morgan should be some high-level basketball played within a game that will mostly contain bad-level basketball. He’s a monster on the glass and in the paint, and his numbers are suspiciously similar to Morgan’s across the board.

THREE THINGS

  • Win the boards, win the game? Northwestern’s greatest asset in this game is their ability to clean up the glass, which is something Chris Collins always looks for in his players. They’re 47th in dOR%, doing an excellent job of limiting the second chances that fuel Indiana’s offense. What happens after Indiana misses a shot could very well go a long way in determining the winner of this game. Each team has only one top-50 ranking in KenPom’s four factors across both their defense and their offense, and this is it.
  • Keep. Hitting. Your. Free. Throws. Indiana hit 73% of their free throws against Minnesota and 82% of them against Penn State, a huge improvement over their dismal season-to-date mark of 68%. Northwestern is among the worst offenders when it comes to sending opponents to the line (296th!) so the Hoosiers should have plenty of chances to add points at the charity stripe, they best not waste them.
  • Bryant McIntosh: The Greensburg native, who was bizarrely not recruited by Indiana, has yet to pick up a win in Assembly Hall, going 0-2 in his trips to Bloomington the past couple of seasons. He missed a couple of games with an injury earlier this year but is coming off an absurd 16-assist performance in a win over the Gophers. His three-point shot has returned to its underclassman form (32.8%) but his assist rate is second in Big Ten play and his last trip to Assembly Hall resulted in a 22-point outburst in a game that the Wildcats seemed to have sewn up as they lead by 7 with 80 seconds to go, only to give up 8 straight, including a last-second and-1 dunk, to lose.