Before you settle in for the Super Bowl, there's college basketball to be played, as Indiana visits Northwestern at 1:30 central time. You can see it on Big Ten Network with Wayne Larrivee and Shon Morris on the call.
The Hoosiers come in at 9-12 overall, 3-6 in the Big Ten. They have some good wins this season (Pittsburgh, Minnesota), but some very bad losses as well (neutral court losses to Boston University and George Mason, home losses to Iowa and Loyola MD). In their last outing, they gave Purdue all they could handle before losing by 3. This season has been a big step forward for Indiana, as last year they were just 6-25 overall and 1-17 in the Big Ten. Northwestern swept last season's series from Indiana, winning 77-75 at home and 75-53 in Bloomington.
Indiana suffered a huge loss during their final non-conference game, when leading scorer Maurice Creek suffered a season-ending knee injury. Creek was the clear front-runner for freshman of the year in the Big Ten at the time, averaging more than 16 points a game. In his absence, the Hoosier offense has really struggled at times. They scored just 45 points in a blowout loss at Michigan and only 43 in an ugly home loss to Iowa. However, their offense has been good over the last two games, in close losses against Illinois and Purdue.
The leading scorer for Indiana is sophomore guard Verdell Jones. He's a lanky guard who scores mostly on drives and mid-range jump shots. With Creek out, no Jones is the go-to guy and has taken a ton of shots during conference play at almost 15 FG attempts per game. He also leads the Big Ten in free throw attempts during conference play, hitting at a solid 73%. Because he is asked to do so much, his field goal percentage is a mediocre 39%, but he is still a dangerous scorer who could cause problems for NU.
Another player to watch is freshman forward Christian Watford. He was a highly touted recruit and is averaging 12 points and a team high 6 rebounds per game during Big Ten play. His athleticism down low could be difficult for NU to defend, although Watford has really been struggling recently.
The best outside shooter for Indiana is senior guard Devan Dumes. He shoots at 35% from behind the arc, and can take over games at times, as he did last season in Evanston when he went off for 26 points. That being said, Dumes has never seen an outside shot he didn't think he could make. For example, in the game vs Purdue Thursday, at one point he decided to pull up for a 30 footer with 2 guys on him. Seriously, the guy tries to hit more threes than an Iowa fan at last call. You really never know what to expect from Dumes, he could go 6 for 8 from three or he could go 0 for 7 and infuriate Hoosier fans with his shot selection. Freshman guard Jordan Hulls also provides solid outside shooting at 34% during Big Ten play.
Northwestern will also see a lot of Jeremiah Rivers in this game. Rivers is a Georgetown transfer who is an excellent athlete and defender, but his offensive skills are limited. Rounding out the rotation are big men Tom Pritchard, Derek Elston, and Bobby Capobianco. one of the 3 have done much on offense, and are in there to rebound and defend.
As a team, Indiana has really struggled with turnovers on offense, turning it over on 22% of their possessions. They also haven't shot the ball particularly well, especially during Big Ten play where their top 6 scorers all shoot less than 40% from the field. They do make up for those shortcomings in part by getting a lot of offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line a lot. I'm somewhat worried about Northwestern getting in foul trouble in this game given their lack of depth, hopefully they can force Indiana into a lot of perimeter shots.
Northwestern is a 9.5 point favorite in this game, by far the biggest line in the 'Cats favor during Big Ten play. This game is a bit tough to predict since Indiana, much like most young teams, has been very inconsistent all year. The Hoosiers could win this game or they could lose by 30, neither would surprise me. Fortunately for Wildcat fans, I think we'll see the bad Indiana team this time around. Indiana played their hearts out on Thursday night in the rivalry game vs. Purdue, and now they only have 2 days to prepare for a Northwestern team that plays an unconventional style of both offense and defense. While I'm not a fan of the 1-3-1 zone in general, I think it has the potential to force Indiana into a ton of turnovers, and I don't see Northwestern having too much trouble scoring, especially given how easily NU scored in the two meetings last season.
Northwestern 74, Indiana 59
Look for Northwestern to execute their offense well and pull away from a tired Indiana team in the second half. As long as the Hoosiers don't start going crazy from 3-point range or manage to foul out either Thompson or Shurna, this should be an NU win. See you tomorrow afternoon for the game thread.
P.S. Currently watching College Basketball Final, and they just had Joe Lunardi on via a grainy webcam from his house, and his rug was more obvious than ever. You could actually see on the side of his huge dome where the rug ended and his real hair began. I'd pay a large sum of money to get Lunardi on PTI, then have Wilbon rip that thing off his head while berating him for not having NU in his latest bracket.