When they knocked off Indiana in Bloomington seven weeks ago, Northwestern appeared to be an up-and-coming team in the Big Ten. The Wildcats immediately followed that win over IU with an impressive home triumph against Ohio State — and they haven’t won a game since.
Unlike Northwestern, Indiana has won games in 2021, but since a two-game winning streak over Penn State and Maryland that straddled 2020 and 2021, the Hoosiers have been unable to string together consecutive wins.
IU is coming off of its second win over Iowa. The last time they took down the highly regarded Hawkeyes, the Hoosiers responded with a dud against Rutgers. After already losing to Northwestern, Indiana knows better than to take the Wildcats lightly, even if they are on a nine-game losing streak.
A closer examination of those Northwestern losses reveals that every one of their opponents was in the KenPom top-30, and six were in the top-11. Indiana has a chance to establish some much needed momentum on Wednesday night. But they will have their hands full against a familiar opponent.
GAME DAY ESSENTIALS
Indiana (10-8, 5-6) at Northwestern (6-10, 3-9)
- Tip time: 5:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.
- Television: Big Ten Network (Brandon Gaudin and Len Elmore)
- IU Radio Network (Don Fischer, Errek Suhr, Joe Smith)
- Series: Indiana leads 118-53 (Northwestern won last meeting 74-67 in Dec.)
- Point Spread: Indiana is a 3.5-point favorite
- KenPom has No. 27 Indiana by 2 points over No. 71 Northwestern
Northwestern’s Chris Collins is in his 8th season in Evanston and has a 115-129 record.
MILLER OUTLINES PRESCRIPTION FOR WINNING CONSISTENTLY
In the not so distant past it seemed that if Indiana could start making 3-pointers with only a reasonable degree of consistency, the wins would follow. Well, the Hoosiers made a combined 14-of-24 shots from long range in their recent home games against Rutgers and Illinois — and lost both contests. Then IU made just 6-of-23 from deep against Iowa on Sunday — and won.
Good 3-point shooting has helped carry IU to some wins this season, including the road win over Iowa and the win over Butler in Indianapolis. But by now a few things should be clear. First, there is no single-issue panacea. Not for this less than perfect team, and not in this loaded conference where even on one of your best days, you can still lose.
“It is not one of these leagues where you can sneak by not having a good day,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “If you do not have a good day, you are not winning, and even if you do have a good day, it does not guarantee it.”
What does Indiana need to improve upon to start producing more good days?
Of late IU’s effort from the field has been far more concerning from 2-point range than 3, where the Hoosiers have made just 49-of-127 attempts (38.6 percent) from inside the arc over the last three games. Whereas the book on stopping recent vintage Indiana offenses entailed packing the paint and allowing the Hoosiers to shoot from 3-point range, now the plan appears to be more along the lines of running IU off the 3-point line and forcing contested 2s. Indiana will need to either run better offense to get more manageable looks, or become a team that finishes better in the paint.
Miller highlighted some other areas where he is focused on improvement right now.
“We have a lot of room to grow,” he said. “As we watch film as a team there are some things if we could just clean up our discipline in terms of some unnecessary fouling. If we can clean up our transition defense a little bit better, and we continue to take care of the ball and especially execute late a little bit better with screening and getting the ball where we want to get to, to me we still have a lot of room to grow.”
The difference between Indiana’s caliber of play in a Tuesday night overtime loss to Illinois and a Sunday win over Iowa wasn’t much. Overall, IU probably played better for longer stretches against Illinois, but it played best at winning time against Iowa. In a league where 13 teams already have at least three losses, and 11 have at least five, no one is immune from the highs and lows of the Big Ten gauntlet.
That’s why Miller believes a resilient, upbeat outlook with a continual focus on improvement can help his team survive this thing in the end. And that is what he is seeing in the locker room and on the practice court right now.
“I definitely think our guys, when you talk about resiliency have showed a great attitude, and have had very few down moments in terms of being able to come back,” Miller said. “And we have had some very, very difficult losses this year, overtimes, double overtimes where you can get down in the dumps. I do think our group has done a good job and we have more guys right now playing better, and that is the quest to be able to find something here at the end of the year you can hang your hat on. And to me, our group has hung their hat on just coming every day trying to get better, having a great attitude, and being ready for the next opportunity that you have.”
The next opportunity is a chance to demonstrate improvement since one of those difficult losses.
Northwestern closed the game in Bloomington on Dec. 23 with a 27-17 run led by an incredible 17-point performance by Chase Audige over the last nine minutes. The 1.1 points per possession IU allowed that night were the fourth most in a game this season.
One area where IU seems improved is ball security. The Hoosiers turned it over 16 times against Northwestern in the first meeting, but have had less than 10 turnovers in four of their last six games. Continuing that trend will be one of the keys to avenging the earlier loss to the Wildcats and establishing some much needed momentum in the back half of the conference schedule.
“We have to continue to push the way we have been pushing and get ready for Northwestern who caused us a lot of problems in our first game,” Miller said. “That seems like a long time ago, but we are going to have to be much better against these guys then we were the first time.”
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