Indiana-Northwestern Preview: Analysis, Point Spread, Prediction, TV Time and Announcers

On Wednesday at 6:30 ET, the 20th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers (19-6, 7-6) host the Northwestern Wildcats (15-9, 5-7), on the Big Ten Network.

As always, Jerod, Ryan, and Andy will be here with another episode of The Assembly Call as soon as the game ends with instant analysis and fan reaction.

IU-Northwestern Gameday Info

IU-Northwestern Preview

Northwestern

The Wildcats are still in search of their first NCAA Tournament bid, and they enter this game firmly on the bubble after losing by 10 points at Purdue on Sunday.  John Shurna led the Northwestern attack with 30 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and four three-pointers.  Reggie Hearn had this third straight solid game with 16 points, and Drew Crawford added 14 in a losing effort.

Senior center Luka Mirkovic missed his fifth straight game with an ankle injury, which forced the Wildcats to play a smaller lineup and essentially use a six-man rotation.  He’s listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game, but his absence significantly hurts a Northwestern team that already struggles on the glass.

Northwestern’s bread and butter is three-point shooting, as they are hitting 40.6 percent from beyond the arc in conference play and scoring nearly 38 percent of their points on three-pointers.  Deadeye shooting has propelled them to the top-rated effective field goal percentage in league play, and the Wildcats rank fourth in offensive efficiency in Big Ten games.  They have also been adept at getting to the free throw line, as evidenced by a 40.3 free throw rate, and despite the fact that they play a freshman point guard, Northwestern has done a great job taking care of the basketball.  In all, they come into this game having scored at least 1.17 points per possession in each of the last four games.

Northwestern’s weakness offensively is a league-worst offensive rebounding percentage.  They also rank dead last in free throw shooting at 65.4 percent in conference play, which ultimately undermines their impressive free throw rate.

Shurna and Crawford carry a heavy offensive burden for the Wildcats, as they combine for 36.7 of Northwestern’s 71.0 points per game.  They are also the team’s top two rebounders and each make over 40 percent from three-point range as well.

Shurna has been remarkably consistent this season and has scored at least 15 points in 11 straight games.  In fact, he’s been held under that total just four times in 24 contests, scoring at least 20 points in 12 games.  Tom Crean has challenged Christian Watford with some tough defensive matchups in recent weeks, so it will be interesting to see if he draws the assignment against Shurna.

Crawford has 22 double-digit scoring efforts to his name, although he has struggled with his shooting over the last few games.  Victor Oladipo seems like the probable defensive matchup, and it will be important for IU to limit at least one of Northwestern’s primary scorers and force other players to make shots.

As mentioned above, Reggie Hearn has been playing much better of late.  After playing sparingly in his first two seasons, he has logged 24.7 minutes per game this year and has tallied 52 points over the last three contests.  Like Shurna and Crawford, he shoots at better than a 40 percent clip from long range and comes into this game with plenty of confidence.

The other player worth noting is freshman Dave Sobolewski, who starts at the point for the Wildcats.  He scores 9.1 points per game but has been on a scoring binge recently with 64 points in the last four games.  He has a low turnover rate and dishes out nearly four assists per game.

For as prolific as Northwestern has been on the offensive end, they have been equally poor on defense and currently rank last in the league in defensive efficiency.  They have surrendered at least 1.03 points per possession in nine straight games with six of those opponents scoring at least 1.14 ppp.  During Big Ten play, the Wildcats rank ninth or worse in turnover percentage, effective field goal percentage, three-point defense, and defensive rebounding percentage.  As a result, the Hoosiers should certainly be able to put points on the board.

Indiana

The Hoosiers have had six days off since beating Illinois at home last Thursday, and it’s actually the first time they have had that much time between games since late December.  Against the Illini, four players scored at least 15 points, led by 22 from Cody Zeller and 18 from Victor Oladipo.  Those two combined to shoot 26 of IU’s 42 free throws in the game.  Christian Watford also broke out of a scoring slump with 18 points, while Jordan Hulls added 15 points and seven assists.

Indiana comes into the game having won two straight games, which actually marks the first time they have won consecutive games since early January.  An increase in their overall aggressiveness has served them well on offense, specifically their ability to get to the free throw line.  They have attempted 77 free throws in the last two games and have hit over 80 percent from the stripe in both contests.  In fact, the Hoosiers now rank first in free throw shooting in Big Ten play.  Northwestern has a short bench, so getting them in foul trouble would be huge for IU in this game for a number of reasons.

The Hoosiers also remain atop the league in three-point shooting and rank second in effective field goal percentage and free throw rate.  Those things, along with their willingness to crash the offensive boards, should serve them well against a porous Northwestern defense.  If Mirkovic is out, the Wildcats have very few options against Cody Zeller defensively, and their 1-3-1 zone can be challenging but also allows for multiple scoring opportunities if attacked effectively.  IU’s turnover rate has also improved in recent games, and solid decision-making will be paramount against the Northwestern zone.

While I have no doubt the Hoosiers can put points on the board, Northwestern’s unique offensive attack and high offensive efficiency will definitely present the Indiana defense with a tough test.  They can’t afford to allow guys like Shurna and Crawford to get clean looks from the outside, but they also need to make sure to close out under control so as not to commit fouls or allow players to drive around them.  As is always the case against the Wildcats, the Hoosiers need to protect against backdoor cuts to prevent easy buckets.

Indiana got fewer points from their bench against Illinois, but a number of players still logged key minutes.  In this game, Remy Abell and Will Sheehey will definitely be called upon for defense against the likes of Shurna and Crawford, while Matt Roth’s three-point shooting will be an asset against a team that struggles to defend the perimeter.

From an injury standpoint, there has been no official word on the status of Verdell Jones.  In his absence, Oladipo has continued to play well with the ball in his hands and Hulls has excelled with additional time off the ball.

Final Thought

The Wildcats come into this game in desperate need of another profile-defining win for their NCAA hopes, but in the end, this is a game the Hoosiers should win at home.  As has been the case for most of the season, IU should not have trouble scoring.  Cody Zeller presents serious matchup issues for the Wildcats, and his presence should allow his teammates to find plenty of room to operate on the perimeter.  The Hoosiers also need to continue to be aggressive by attacking the basket and crashing the offensive boards, both of which have elevated their play in recent games.

As has become the norm for IU, defense will be the key.  It’s unrealistic to think they will be able to completely shut down both Shurna and Crawford, but they need to force them to put the ball on the floor or take contested shots while making other players beat them.  The Hoosiers aren’t likely to force many turnovers, but they can’t afford to put Northwestern on the line and give them free scoring chances.

The start of the game will also be critical, and if IU can jump on the Wildcats early, things could get out of hand.  Northwestern has been on the business end of a number of lopsided final scores this season, so it’s possible for things to snowball quickly so long as the Hoosiers aren’t rusty from the six-day break between games.

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Listen to Andy Wednesday on The Assembly Call. Follow him on Twitter at @AndyBottoms.



About Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms

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