This was the matchup that, as an Indiana fan, you wanted to see in football in December but instead it happened in men’s basketball and it was probably just as frustrating as the football version could’ve been, given the defenses that would’ve been involved.
But now, offense-forward Northwestern is somehow 2-0 in the Big Ten and no one’s happy about it.
Northwestern played like a team that just beat Michigan State
Chicago’s Big Ten Team entered the matchup ranked No. 72 in adjusted offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com, but the ‘Cats had the third-best assist rate, sixth-fastest offense and eighth-best 3-point percentage nationally, so the Kelley Compass All-Stars have actually cosplayed as a functional offense this season, and they did so again on Wednesday night – with a pretty lethal efficiency, too.
Northwestern put up 1.10 points per possession against Indiana’s top-10 defense. Butler only scored 0.90 points per possession, for reference.
There were one-handed passes on the run through small windows that were caught in stride and laid in for graceful buckets. There was a one-on-three post-up that actually wasn’t as ill-founded as those numbers would suggest, because Northwestern’s Ryan Young was the aggressor and caught the ball in good position. There were sharp cuts and then court-aware passes off those cuts when Indiana’s defense didn’t rotate fast enough. There were no-look pocket passes in transition. Crossover, step-back threes. Smooth mid-range jumpers.
And William & Mary transfer Chase Audige was an absolute killer down the stretch.
If Northwestern’s football team had the offense of Northwestern’s men’s basketball team, we’d be talking about a Big Ten champion Northwestern that would be coming off of a 38-21 win over Ohio State.
First-half Trayce, where art thou?
At the under-4 timeout in the first half, Trayce Jackson-Davis had five points and three rebounds on 2-for-4 shooting. After a pretty Euro step, followed by an early setup to TJD – on that set that Indiana runs where he’s on the left block and a guard in the right corner will run through two screens on the baseline (one screen on each block) and then whoever is set up on the right block will set a back screen on TJD’s man, setting him up for an easy layup on the right block – he was largely M.I.A for the rest of the half. He finished the first half with seven and five, which arguably felt a little quieter than that.
The BTN broadcast showed that Jackson-Davis entered the game ranked No. 2 on kenpom.com’s National Player of the Year standings, so, at risk of....
Indiana : Trayce Jackson-Davis :: Iowa : Luka Garza
....meaning, where the team’s touts an individual player’s stat line after an 11-point loss, Indiana should probably err on the side of too much TJD, rather than too little TJD. In a worst-case scenario, it’s better to lose by three after a herculean 28-point, 14-rebound, 10 free-throw game from your best player than to lose by 12 after your best player has a quiet 14 and nine, or something, right?
Late in the first half, Indiana ran one of its staple sets for Trayce, where its positions Jackson-Davis in the low block, Race Thompson in the high post and runs two wings around the baseline, only for Jackson-Davis, who was just acting intentionally oblivious, to seal his defender, catch an inbounds pass and then score an easy two.
This was the type of set that IU ran a lot of against Stanford and while Indiana needs to run more diverse offensive sets than a few of its staples for TJD, when the Hoosiers need a bucket, they might a well default into plays like that one that have a high probability of success for their best player.
Then the second half happened, and like the rest of the team, Jackson-Davis played with a newfound energy, slamming a few dunks, crashing the offensive glass after a Race Thompson miss, athletically tipping in an Al Durham miss and playing like the All-America candidate he is.
Jackson-Davis finished with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds, and he was downright dominant on a handful of possessions in the second half, but those possessions were too little and too late.
Free throws are free for a reas–– [gets hit with anvil]
Indiana entered Wednesday night shooting 65.9 percent at the free-throw line. That comes after Indiana made 67.9 percent of its free throws last season and 65.5 percent the year before that and 65.7 percent in Miller’s first year.
His teams at Dayton – in reverse order – made 69.3, 66.8, 68.6, 68.1, 71.7 and 77.7 percent of their free throws. So, ever since his first-ever team at Dayton ranked second nationally, his teams have almost always been below-average at the charity stripe, if not downright awful.
Indiana was only 10-for-16 (62.5%) from the free-throw line against Northwestern, but it could’ve been much worse based on the Hoosiers’s early returns. There was at least one missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one, too.
It’s indicative of the program’s 3-point shooting woes and generally subpar-in-the-Big-Ten offense during the Miller era that the Hoosiers haven’t been able to break 70 percent at the stripe in a season since Tom Crean was fired.
But too often Wednesday, Indiana couldn’t even get to the point where it was drawing fouls, or getting in position to potentially draw a foul. The Hoosiers committed 16 turnovers, many of which were of the dumbest variety, like quite literally dribbling the ball off a shoe, two teammates fighting over the same rebound with no Northwestern players around and the ball popping out of both of their hands and out of bounds, and Indiana players simply gift-wrapping the basketball to the Wildcats like they have drawn their name in a Secret Santa gift exchange.
And that’s how first-place Northwestern happened.