Northwestern saw its Big Ten Tournament end quickly Thursday at Chicago's United Center with a 71-56 loss to Indiana. The Wildcats, coming off another blowout loss last Saturday vs Iowa, went down early in this game and, thanks to a 21-1 Indiana run in the first half, never were able to catch up. NU--likely--now finishes its season at 15-17 with a possible CBI berth aheard.
Here's our early analysis of the loss:
1. Indiana's athleticism was the difference
One of the biggest disadvantages Northwestern has faced in the Big Ten is its relative lack of pure athletes that seem to be so ubiquitous in the conference. For every Vic Law or Scottie Lindsey Chris Collins has, teams like Indiana have James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams. Coaching and execution can only go so far but when you have physical mismatches--such as those allowing Indiana to have multiple alley-oops and alley-oop chances--winning in a power conference tournament is very hard. The Wildcats showed that tonight.
2. Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding
Although both teams shot around 40 percent from the field, Indiana took 19 more shots. The reason for this? The Hoosiers won the rebounding battle 42-25. That's crazy. When you throw in their 20 offensive rebounds (to NU's five), no wonder the Wildcats lost in such convincing fashion. Also, Indiana scored 20 second-chance points to NU's three. Hard to win like that.
3. The weakness of the 2-3 zone killed NU
Basketball players, from a very young age, learn that man-to-man defense is designed to limit outside shooting, thereby shutting the paint down. They also learn that in zone schemes, the perimeter is left vulnerable so as to focus on defending the paint. When Northwestern has employed a zone this season--often to success--it has worked when the Wildcats' opponent hasn't been able to convert from three-point range.
That was not the case on Thursday. Indiana scorched Northwestern's defense all night, to the tune of 11 triples. Granted, the Hoosiers didn't shoot a great percentage from deep (34 percent) but their ability to create second chances off offensive rebounds negated this efficiency loss and just resulted in back-breaking made by Tom Crean's squad. Even when the Wildcats defended well for 25-30 seconds in a possession, multiple times Indiana was bailed out by a deep three to maintain its lead.
4. Indiana's freshman guard severely outplayed NU's
Both Bryant McIntosh and James Blackmon Jr. are Indiana natives and were each named to the Big Ten's All-Freshman team a few days ago, but only one of them played like they deserved such a recognition. McIntosh posted 13 points and 5 assists for a reasonable statline but never truly asserted himself like he has for NU so often this season.
On the other hand, Blackmon controlled the game from start to finish, and did so with relative ease. He scored a game-high 25 points on 8-15 shooting (5-10 from three) with six rebounds and seven assists as he dominated Northwestern's zone. Every time the Wildcats felt they had a chance to make a serious run to get back in the game, Blackmon was there to make a big shot, extend another possession or find an open teammate.