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Indiana Men’s Basketball: Previewing Northwestern

A Meaningful Rematch

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

In case you missed it, Northwestern notched its biggest win in program history Sunday afternoon, knocking off the No. 1 Boilermakers 64-58. It was the first time in program history that the Wildcats had beaten a number one team, and Purdue ended up on the wrong end of a court storming for the second time in two weeks.

The win also brought Northwestern to 9-5 in Big Ten play, tied with Indiana for second in the conference. After being picked to finish second to last in the conference in the preseason Media Poll, Chris Collins has this group as a virtual lock for the field of 68, barring collapse.

The last time Indiana traveled to Northwestern, Mike Woodson benched Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Khristian Lander, Tamar Bates, and Michael Durr for missing curfew the night before the game. Hopefully there’s no funny business this time, as Indiana will need to be as close to full strength as possible to beat this solid Northwestern bunch.

Here’s what you need to know about the Wildcats:

The Wins

Obviously, Sunday’s win against top-ranked Purdue was the biggest of the season so far for Northwestern, but there are a few other solid ones as well. The one point win in Assembly Hall on January 8th currently stands as their second-best win of the year, contributing to the fact that they actually have a better road record in the Big Ten than they do at home.

The Wildcats also have wins in East Lansing, Columbus, Madison, and Lincoln, with the wins over Michigan State and Illinois standing out among this group. Like most of the teams near the top of the conference, Northwestern has beaten up on the teams that are struggling right now, like the two wins over Wisconsin (6-8).

Besides the Purdue game, Northwestern’s best home win this year came against Illinois on January 4th. In a 13 point victory, the Wildcats held Illinois to 28% from the 3-point line while forcing 15 turnovers.

The Losses

Northwestern entered Big Ten play with two losses, one coming in a 43-42 rock fight against Auburn on a neutral court. The Wildcats followed it up with a home loss to a Pittsburgh team that’s currently receiving votes at 18-7 overall.

Also in the “forgivable” loss category are Northwestern’s 65-62 loss at home to Rutgers and the 86-70 loss in Iowa City. No matter how well Iowa is playing, they’re always capable of getting Carver-Hawkeye on its feet with a red hot shooting night, making it an annoyingly difficult place to get a win.

More confusing are Northwestern’s two losses to a Michigan team that is clearly not going to make the tournament and a home loss to an Ohio State team that has literally been in a free fall since. Overall in Big ten play, Northwestern is just 4-3 at home.

With the loss to Pittsburgh, the Wildcats are somehow just .500 at home against high-major opponents. Add in the possibility of a big game hangover after Sunday, and the Hoosiers seems lucky to catch them in Evanston Wednesday night.

The Team

The Wildcats are led on offense by Boo Buie and Chase Audige, who average 16.6 and 15.1 points per game. Audige is the better shooter of the two, hitting 33.3% of his 3-point attempts so far, while Buie is more of an inside threat.

In the win against Indiana last month, Buie put up 26 while Audige added 19, playing a combined 66 minutes of the game. What killed Indiana in that first matchup though were the contributions from Robbie Beran and Ty Berry, who each had 13 points and shot a combined 4-9 from 3-point range.

Northwestern is not a good 3-point shooting team, hitting just 31% from deep as a team. Behind those contributions from Beran and Berry, Northwestern’s 7-19 3-point shooting performance in Assembly Hall was actually above the team average on the season.

The Wildcats are a defense-first team that excels at 2-point defense and steals, falling in the top 20 nationwide in both of those stats. One weakness is perimeter defense though, as opponents have hit 34% from deep against Northwestern this year.

Indiana may want to focus its defensive attention on those secondary scorers like Berry and Beran, letting Buie and Audige try to get their points in the paint against Trayce’s rim defense. The real struggle will be offensive discipline on the road, since we’ve seen this group struggle with turnovers away from Assembly Hall.

It seems like a winnable game and the computers think it will be close, but it will take a tougher performance than Indiana gave in its win against Michigan to beat this Northwestern team. Again, let’s hope everyone took it easy and made curfew this time.