With Indiana fans currently obsessing over how long it should take to turn around a college basketball program, Northwestern presents a different question — what does that even mean?
If you had asked any Wildcat fan whether head coach Chris Collins had turned around the NU program in 2017, the answer would have been an unwavering yes.
That was after the Wildcats had made their first ever NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round.
Since then, Northwestern has produced a losing record each year and the trend signs are pointing down.
The turnaround is only step one. As the Wildcats arrive in Bloomington 0-3 in the Big Ten and with nonconference home losses to Merrimack, Radford and Hartford, it is worth noting that merely finding success, and sustaining it, are two entirely different challenges.
GAME DAY ESSENTIALS
Northwestern (5-8, 0-3) at Indiana (11-3, 1-2)
- Tip time: Wednesday / 7 p.m. ET
- Location: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
- Television: BTN (Stream)
- Series: Indiana leads 117-52 (Last meeting: Northwestern won 73-66 in 2019 at NU)
- Point Spread: Vegas likes Indiana by around 12 points. KenPom likes Indiana by 11.
- Tickets (Seat Geek affiliate link)
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Northwestern Statistical Leaders
- Miller Kopp (F) 12.7 ppg
- Boo Buie (G) 10.8 ppg
- Ryan Young (C) 10.8 ppg
- Pete Nance (F) 10.4 ppg
- Pat Spencer (G) 10.2 ppg
- Ryan Young (C) 7.2 rpg
- Pete Nance (F) 6.7 rpg
- Pat Spencer (G) 4.2 apg
A look at KenPom No. 106 Northwestern’s noteworthy metrics
- Forcing long possessions – If there is a reason to worry about this game, it is the fact that Northwestern is one of the best teams in the country (Top 10) at forcing opposing offenses into long possessions. The Wildcats will look to make Indiana and its struggling halfcourt offense earn their points.
- Not a lot of second chances – Want even more evidence that Northwestern is going to emphasize getting back on defense and forcing IU into a halfcourt game? The Wildcats are only getting offensive rebounds on 24 percent (No. 289) of their misses. Northwestern will be sprinting back on defense rather than trying to battle IU on the boards.
- No freebies – Making IU earn it, Part III. Northwestern doesn’t foul a great deal, and opponents are only scoring 16.1 percent of their points from the stripe. That’s a top 100 metric and goes against Indiana’s emphasis on getting to the line.
- Good things for those who wait – It isn’t all bad news. If you run your stuff, you will be rewarded. Northwestern allows assists on 62.9 percent of made shots (No. 341 nationally). Archie Miller said on Monday that he wants more assists, and the opportunities should be there against the Wildcats.
HOOSIERS NEED TO RAMP UP THE INTENSITY LEVEL
A common criticism of Miller’s Indiana teams is that they don’t always appear to be playing with toughness and intensity.
The third year Hoosier head coach recognizes that is something that needs to change now if his team is going to survive in a league with 12 of its 14 clubs ranked in the top 50 according to KenPom.
“One thing that we have got to take to the next level is our intensity level,” Miller said. “We’ve got to get certain guys that are raising their level in January right now that are playing harder for longer stretches, and guys are coming in the game not just trying to hang in there, they’ve got to be ready and attacking and playing the right way.”
The way IU ultimately dug out of 12 losses in 13 games last season was with improved play on the defensive end.
Miller sees that side of the ball as the key to avoiding another prolonged losing streak in 2020.
“We’ve got to get a harder, more physical playing team right now, especially defensively making more happen,” Miller said. “We’re not active enough, there’s not enough turnover plays, there’s not enough defense to offense happening for our team and how we try to play.”
As simple as it seems, Miller sees effort as the foundation of winning teams — and a non-negotiable on his own squad.
“You have to play hard. You have to,” Miller said. “If you don’t play hard you might as well not show up at the game. Most of the teams that know how to win really play hard all of the time.”
NORTHWESTERN NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY
Miller doesn’t want that Wildcat record to fool you. Indiana isn’t in a position to look past any Big Ten opponents right now, and that includes a young and struggling Northwestern team.
“They had a knock down, drag out road game against Purdue that was really, really hard fought, they had Michigan State at home to a four our five point game under a couple minutes,” Miller said. “To me Northwestern has been one of the teams early in the year that’s young that’s dealt with some injuries and had some hard games, but they’re right there to win them.”
The Wildcats announced several injuries on Sunday, including season ending shoulder surgery for junior guard Anthony Gaines. First year Boo Buie is out indefinitely with a lower body injury and senior A.J. Turner is day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Playing shorthanded, Northwestern struggled on the road at Minnesota on Sunday, but Miller sees a style of play that will present challenges for his team.
“They make it very difficult,” Miller said. “They play a lot of zone, they’re slowing the game down defensively, they’re playing bigger bodies. When they’re healthy they can mix up their man and zone and play a very tight defense, make you shoot threes. You’re not going to get a lot of easy baskets.”
This is most likely the last time this season that Indiana will enter a game as a double digit favorite. But in an ultra-competitive league, Miller isn’t letting his guard down with Northwestern.
“I don’t go into one game ever thinking it will be easy, but especially right now as we are approaching league play, every game is hard,” he said.
You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no additional cost to you