Following a much-needed win over Minnesota on Wednesday night, Northwestern (11-7, 2-3 B1G) will face Indiana (10-7, 3-2 B1G) in a nationally-televised matchup in Bloomington, Ind. on Sunday afternoon.
Archie Miller’s squad has been playing their best basketball of the season of late, jumping up to fifth place in the conference standings with a road win against Minnesota on Jan. 6 and a home victory over Penn State on Tuesday night. In non-conference play, Indiana has a couple bad losses, to Indiana State and to Fort Wayne, but the Hoosiers played Duke close at home and beat then-No. 18 Notre Dame in double overtime.
Forward Juwan Morgan has been central to Indiana’s solid play of late. The junior put up 21 points and 11 rebounds in the Hoosiers’s 74-70 victory on Tuesday night. Through five conference matchups, Morgan is averaging 19.4 points and nine rebounds per game. Two seniors, Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk, headline the back court. Johnson averages over 13 points per game, but has seen a significant drop-off in efficiency in his senior season. His three-point percentage has dropped to 30.3 percent this season, and he’s only shooting 5-for-24 from three-point range in conference play. Newkirk is Indiana’s primary distributor at three assists per game.
Given that Indiana has been without big man De’Ron Davis (who was averaging 9.6 points per game before tearing his Achilles) for the past two games, their role players has stepped up admirably. Buffalo Grove native Justin Smith stepped into his spot in the starting lineup last Saturday against Minnesota and scored a career-high 20 points. Devonte Green, Collin Hartman, and Aljami Durham are three bench scorers to note, although Green and Durham have struggled with efficiency and turnovers.
Indiana is one of the worst teams in country (325th) in three-point shooting. The Hoosiers do their damage inside the paint and on the offensive boards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Northwestern spend a lot of time in their 2-3 zone, following a similar strategy as they did Wednesday night when they dared Minnesota to beat them from deep and locked down the paint. On the other end of the floor, Indiana defends the paint well and uses its length to generated blocked shots and turnovers. The Hoosiers turned Penn State and Minnesota over a combined 27 times last week. Morgan alone accounts for 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. Indiana’s one weakness is three-point defense— the Hoosiers have allowed opponents to shoot 38.6 percent from behind the arc. Northwestern will be in a good position to win if it can keep making three pointers and force Indiana to work hard for shots on the other end.
This is a meaningful matchup for Bryant McIntosh, who has yet to beat the Hoosiers in his home state during his Northwestern career. It also goes without saying that this game (and really every conference game, at least with the season up in the air) is hugely consequential for Northwestern. With two difficult but winnable home matchups coming up next week, a win in Bloomington would bring the Wildcats to .500 in conference play and continue the momentum from Wednesday night’s blowout.
Game Time: 3:30 p.m. Central
Radio: WGN 720
KenPom prediction: 70-69 Indiana (47 percent chance of winning)
Betting line: Indiana -2.5, O/U 140