Remember first-place Northwestern? Remember top-20 Northwestern? Remember when we thought Northwestern might actually be g-g-g-g-good?
Those things happened, but they’re far in the past. Like, a month and a half in the past.
Since starting the season 6-1, Northwestern went full Northwestern and lost a ton of games — nine in a row, in fact. Yeah, it’s pretty bad up there in Evanston, which is where IU is headed for Wednesday’s 5:30 Eastern tip against the Wildcats.
Nothing stupid could possibly happen to the Hoosiers in this game, right? Right. Well, probably not. We think. Actually, wait. Watch this game at your own risk.
OK, here’s the thing. Indiana has a bit of a Welsh-Ryan problem at the moment.
The Hoosiers have lost their last three trips to the old campus barn. The last time IU won a game in Evanston, Yogi Ferrell, Noah Vonleh, Will Sheehey and Troy Williams each scored 12 points in a 61-56 victory on Feb. 22, 2014. So, yeah.
Losing at Northwestern is one thing. But taking two L’s to the ‘Cats in the same season is something no Hoosier wants to wear. It hasn’t happened often — and Archie Miller and co. would do well to see that it doesn’t happen this year.
Thanks to nothsa, our friend from the comment section, and the esteemed John M. IU, our resident blogger emeritus, we have some details that contextualize how the series has evolved, and what’s at stake on Wednesday when the Hoosiers try to avoid the regular season sweep.
The miserable history of Northwestern basketball has a few relative high points – more seamounts, really, where the high point doesn’t actually make it to the surface of the ocean. Unfortunately, one of those coincided with years 1-3 of the Crean era, and that led to six losses to Northwestern. Our record against them is 92-28 (since 1949-50), so that’s more than a fifth of those losses in three years.
The 2011 Hoosiers got swept by the Wildcats. That team seemed like “mediocre” might have been a realistic ceiling, but their 9-2 record entering conference play was fools gold, as they only won 3 games, against Michigan (we pounded them) and ranked Illinois and Minnesota squads. That was, by Evanston standards, an excellent Northwestern team – they went 7-10 in conference and finished 20-14 after a nice NIT run.
The 2010 Hoosiers went 1-2 against Northwestern, splitting the regular season and then losing in the BTT. I dimly remember that game. The hapless 2009 Hoosiers got swept – they only won one Big Ten game, against Iowa. Northwestern beat us by 22 at Assembly Hall that year, probably one of the worst losses the Hoosiers have sustained at home when factoring in the opponent quality.
From John M. IU:
The turn in the NU series … hasn’t been as bad as the swing in the Wisconsin series, but it’s still notable. IU won 26 in a row against Northwestern from 1988 to 2003. Since NU broke the streak in Evanston in 2003, IU is only 4-9 at Welsh-Ryan and is 11-4 in Bloomington (the teams have split two BTT meetings for a whopping 16-14 record against NU since the end of the long streak). Until Crean’s first season, Northwestern had never won at Assembly Hall.
For now, the good news for IU is that Northwestern is just kind of scraping by at the moment. (Also, if you’re looking for good news, and good news only, try to ignore the fact that IU has dropped nine of the 11 games it has played immediately following a ranked victory during the Archie Miller era. Shouldn’t have said anything, huh?)
In conference play, Northwestern ranks 11th in the league in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency, per Bart Torvik. The ‘Cats have been pushed around on the glass, they’ve been sloppy with the ball, and they’ve received virtually nothing from their bench.
On an individual level, Boo Buie has cooled considerably since his strong start to his sophomore season. Over the course of Northwestern’s nine-game skid, Buie is averaging 6.2 points. He’s also been held to two points or fewer on four occasions during that stretch.
Miller Kopp is averaging a team-best 13.2 points and ranks second in the Big Ten with a .875 free throw percentage. He’s also one of two Big Ten regulars (Michigan’s Isaiah Livers) shooting at least 45% from the field, 40% from beyond the arc and 85% at the line.
As ugly as things have gotten for Northwestern, the Wildcats can still put a scare into teams. Among Big Ten programs, only Iowa (9.9) is averaging more 3-pointers per game than Northwestern’s 8.7. Of course, so much of Northwestern’s long-range production came while things were going well in December, but the ‘Cats did drain 11 against Penn State on Jan. 23 and 10 against Purdue on Saturday.
Things to watch
Good on the glass
Last season, Indiana hit double figures in offensive rebounds 20 times over the course of its 32-game season. This season, the Hoosiers have grabbed 10 or more offensive boards seven times in 18 contests. Personnel losses have certainly played a role in the lower rebounding rate, but the team has been much better of late. IU pulled down 11 offensive rebounds against Illinois before grabbing 15 against Iowa on Sunday. The last time Indiana recorded double-digit offensive boards in consecutive games? Nov. 25 and No. 30 against Tennessee Tech and Providence.
If you’re going by the standard box scores, Khristian Lander’s line the past three games has been pretty pedestrian. But if you’ve watched those contests unfold, you’ve surely noticed how IU’s offense has a little more flow to it when the freshman is on the floor. Lander was a plus-5 in 11 minutes in the Rutgers loss, he was even in 19 minutes in the Illinois loss, and he was a plus-13 in 15 minutes in the Iowa win. Eighteen games into his first season, it’s clear that Lander’s confidence is rising. So, too, are his positive contributions.
Durham finishing at the line
On a poor free throw shooting team, Al Durham is suddenly flashing as a bright spot. The senior guard is 22-for-25 (88%) at the line over his past four games. For the season, he’s at 73% — well below the 81% mark he posted a year ago. But at this point, any uptick in free throw success is a good thing for Indiana. And for Al. Oh, and he’s also 6-for-12 from beyond the arc across the same span.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Indiana (10-8, 5-6) at Northwestern (6-10, 3-9)
Where? Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.
When? Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. Eastern
Channel? BTN | Brandon Gaudin (p-b-p), Len Elmore (analyst)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Errek Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Indiana -3