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Northwestern vs. Indiana preview: analysis, players to watch, prediction

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The Wildcats desperately need at least one more win. Will it come in Bloomington?

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

After a lackluster performance in its second loss to Illinois this season, Northwestern (20-8, 9-6 Big Ten) needs a win on Saturday against Indiana (15-13, 5-10 Big Ten) more than ever.

Nearly a month ago, Northwestern took advantage of a James Blackmon Jr.-less Indiana offense, holding the Hoosiers to a season-low 55 points. Blackmon Jr. is back, but Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes are long gone. On senior night for the Hoosiers, Northwestern is the team looking to bolster its resume for the postseason.

With Northwestern searching for a couple elusive wins to close out the regular season, here’s everything you need to know about the Indiana Hoosiers.

Indiana at a glance

  • Record: 15-13 (5-10 Big Ten, 4-4 at home)
  • RPI: 101 (NU is 44)
  • KenPom: 45 (NU is 39)
  • Good wins (ranks from KenPom): vs. No. 8 Kansas (neutral), vs. No. 5 North Carolina, vs. No. 52 Michigan State
  • Bad losses: at No. 140 Fort Wayne, vs. No. 84 Nebraska, at No. 75 Iowa
  • Head coach: Tom Crean, ninth season. 163-132 with Indiana, 69-90 in nearly nine seasons of Big Ten conference play. Three Sweet Sixteen appearances. Previous head coaching position(s): Marquette

Players to Watch

  • James Blackmon Jr., junior guard (17.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 41.3 3-PT FG %)

The former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All American has seen his numbers rise every year at Indiana. After his sophomore season was cut short by surgery on a torn meniscus, Blackmon Jr. has come back even stronger. He’s clearly the Hoosiers’ offensive leader, taking nearly 13 shots per game, including 7.5 from beyond the arc. Blackmon Jr. is not much of a distributor, however, and is averaging more turnovers per game (2.0) than assists (1.8). Tom Crean’s offense will be much different than the one we saw in Evanston in late January; Blackmon Jr. has put up double digits in all but two Big Ten games this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Vic Law tasked to defend Blackmon Jr.

  • Robert Johnson, junior guard (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.4 apg)

Johnson has seen a significant uptick in production from his previous two seasons. The junior is a high-volume scorer with the ability to go off for 27 points like he did earlier this month against Penn State, or go scoreless, which he did against Minnesota two weeks ago. Johnson scored 12 points last time these teams met, all from beyond the arc. He went 0-7 elsewhere. Johnson is almost a lock to hit a three; he’s made at least one in all but two games this season, and Northwestern will try to limit his looks from the perimeter. Johnson really struggled defending Bryant McIntosh, so it will be interesting to see how Crean adjusts.

  • Thomas Bryant, sophomore center (13.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Bryant put on a show at Welsh-Ryan earlier this season. The sophomore poured in 23 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and added two blocks for good measure. For a 6-foot-10 sophomore, Bryant is incredibly polished on both ends of the floor. He’s fast and has the ability to stretch the floor - he’s shooting over 40-percent from three. Bryant is a really tough matchup for Northwestern’s frontcourt, and just like last game, we could see a mix of Dererk Pardon, Sanjay Lumpkin, and even Barret Benson on Bryant. Indiana has wilted in Big Ten play, but not at the fault of Bryant whatsoever.

  • Josh Newkirk, junior guard (8.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.2 apg)

Tom Crean loves riding his junior point guard - Newkirk has played at least 29 minutes in six of his last seven games. He’s Indiana’s best distributor and assists leader, which he showed in a seven assist performance against Northwestern earlier this year. However, he does turn the ball over 2.3 times per game. Tom Crean opted to put the 6-foot-1 Newkirk on Scottie Lindsey, and Lindsey put up 12 points despite going 0-for-4 from three. Newkirk is an aggressive defender, but if he matches up against Lindsey again, Northwestern should be able to take advantage (assuming Lindsey can start to return to form).

  • Juwan Morgan, sophomore forward (7.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 63.5 2-PT FG %)

Aside from Bryant, Morgan is probably Indiana’s best presence down low. He holds an impressive offensive rebounding percentage of 11%, but he’s not much of a scoring threat. The 6-foot-8 sophomore struggles to stretch the floor offensively and usually only settles for high percentage looks.

Game Analysis

Having watched Indiana in Big Ten play, it’s hard to imagine this is the same team that beat two AP Top 10 teams and won the Big Ten title last season. That said, they really aren’t. The Hoosiers have been without senior Collin Hartman all season, and they haven’t been the same since losing electric sophomore OG Anunoby back in January. They’re 2-7 without him and are currently mired in a five-game losing skid. That said, Northwestern has not recently looked like the team that beat Indiana in January. On top of that, the Hoosiers will have their leading scorer back. For all he does as the undeniable leader of the team, Blackmon Jr.’s return has not helped Indiana get in the win column, but the Hoosiers have been competitive. Indiana has lost the four games since Blackmon Jr.’s return by an average of 7 points, 3 of which came against probable NCAA Tournament teams and the most recent of which was a tough OT loss at Iowa. Northwestern was able to win the first matchup behind the stellar play of Bryant McIntosh and Sanjay Lumpkin. Vic Law was inefficient to the tune of 2-of-12 from the field, Lindsey was 0-for-4 from three, and Dererk Pardon didn’t score. Northwestern badly needs a win on Saturday, and even though Indiana is healthier than they were in the first meeting, I think Northwestern can and will find a way to get it done.

Prediction

  • KenPom prediction: Indiana 72, Northwestern 70
  • My prediction: Northwestern 69, Indiana 66