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Northwestern's defense falls apart in 89-57 loss at Assembly Hall

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana is done messing around. After two years of blown leads, tough losses to mediocre teams and frustration in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers blew out Northwestern to push their winning streak to 12 games. Unlike years past, Northwestern was outplayed offensively and defensively as Indiana showed why it is at the top of the Big Ten.

From the opening tip, Indiana eviscerated Northwestern’s "Chameleon" defense. Indiana went on a 10-0 run to open the game and took Northwestern’s complex 2-3 zone/man defense apart. Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman and Nick Zeisloft shot open threes at will. Indiana passed the ball with precision and Northwestern’s rotations were unable to keep up with the Hoosiers’ athleticism. Indiana’s drive-and-kick offense and relentless movement left players like Aaron Falzon and Alex Olah helpless. Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell literally ran circles around Northwestern’s defense and significantly outplayed Bryant McIntosh.

"They just put a lot of pressure on you," Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said. "They play with great pace and we could never make it a game."

Northwestern was simply content to let Indiana shoot threes and occasionally let a Hoosier score an easy basket off a missed assignment. Northwestern may not have been able to halt Indiana from hitting threes at a 46.2 percent clip. However, 49 percent of Indiana’s shots were three-pointers, a number that the defense is able to control statistically. Northwestern, like other teams in the Big Ten, was simply unable to stop Indiana’s offensive plan.

It’s not like Indiana’s shooting was a surprise. Indiana came into the game with a 61.2 effective field goal percentage, good enough for second in the country. True to form, Indiana shot 52.6 percent from the field. The Hoosiers played exactly how they have played all season. They took a ton of threes, shot the ball well, turned it over frequently and played fundamentally solid man defense. Northwestern’s flagging offense could not keep up with Indiana’s barrage of shots as it repeatedly got beaten defensively. Indiana’s offensive dominance quickly forced Northwestern into a massive hole that it could not recover from.

"There hasn’t been a team to slow them down yet," Collins said. "Yeah, our defense was exposed, and so have the six other defenses that have played them. They scored [103] in the last game, so I think we did a good job, we held them to 89," he said half-jokingly.

Collins does have a point. Indiana has been outstanding offensively during Big Ten play. Northwestern’s defense has been fairly effective recently against good offensive teams such as Maryland and Wisconsin. However, in its losses to Penn State and Indiana, Northwestern’s complex defensive scheme has looked woefully inadequate at defending three-pointers and remaining focused in the interior. Northwestern allowed Penn State to shoot 42.6 percent from three and attempt far more threes than usual. The defense did not operate well against Penn State, and it comes as no surprise that a top-tier offense like Indiana completely dismantled Northwestern. One wonders if the Maryland and Wisconsin games were mirages based on poor shooting from the opposition rather than a result of defensive solidity.

Alex Olah looked good on offense, but his rim protection ability is still lacking and he looked confused by the zone system that was instituted while he was out. Scottie Lindsey played 23 minutes and was unable to keep up with Indiana’s offensive action. Bryant McIntosh played his worst game of the season offensively and defensively, as Ferrell’s court vision and dribbling skills neutralized McIntosh. Just like the Penn State debacle, Indiana’s players had wide-open looks for the entire game.

Indiana deserves credit playing well on defense as well. When Northwestern cut into the lead early in the first half, Indiana shut down Northwestern’s offense for long stretches of the game. Robert Johnson and Yogi Ferrell limited Bryant McIntosh to 4 points on 2 for 12 shooting. Demps and Olah both had excellent bounce back games and played very well, but the efforts of the two seniors were not enough. Northwestern’s role players were barely involved. Dererk Pardon looked good on offense and on the boards during the second half, but by that point the deficit was insurmountable.

Tom Crean’s team squad was well-coached and well-disciplined. Indiana was demonstrably better than Northwestern today, and there wasn’t anything the Wildcats could do about it. With Northwestern facing Michigan State and Iowa next week, Northwestern’s defense could continue to be exposed.