Northwestern concludes their regular season schedule this afternoon, traveling to Bloomington to take on Indiana. You can see the game on the Big Ten Network bright and early at 11 AM central time, with Wayne Larrivee and Jim Jackson on the call. With a win the 'Cats would clinch the seventh seed in the Big Ten tournament, and would likely face Indiana again on Thursday unless Penn State can upset Purdue. Should Northwestern lose today, that would guarantee a rematch with Indiana.
When these teams last met in Evanston, Northwestern led the entire way and cruised to a 78-61 victory, and things haven't gotten any better for Indiana since then. The Hoosiers set a school record on Wednesday by losing their 11th straight game, and they've lost their last 8 by an average of 21.75 points per game, with the closest defeat being by 14. The injury to leading scorer Maurice Creek has really taken its toll, as Indiana ranks last in the Big Ten and 186th in the nation in offensive efficiency. They shoot a low percentage (46% effective FG%, 279th nationally) and turn the ball over a lot (22.6% of possessions, 291st nationally). With Northwestern's recent defensive ineptitude, something's got to give.
Sophomore Verdell Jones leads Indiana in scoring, and had a career high 28 in the first meeting vs. NU. He is a dangerous mid-range shooter, and excels at getting to the line where he shoots 75%. Besides Jones though, Indiana doesn't have many options on offense. Freshman forward Christian Watford has talent, but is still very raw and shoots just 38% from the field. Devan Dumes can get hot from 3-point range, but as noted during the last meeting, his shot selection leaves a lot to be desired.
The bottom line is this is a game that Northwestern should win easily on paper, but Assembly Hall is a tough place to play and the 'Cats have lost 6 straight road games, some in much less intimidating venues. KenPom has this is a 5 point NU win, and Vegas agrees, setting Northwestern as a 4.5 point favorite. Giving points on the road isn't exactly an exciting prospect, but Indiana has been so bad for the last month that I can't resist.
Northwestern 74, Indiana 65
As long as the 'Cats take care of the ball and keep up their hot 3-point shooting, they should be able to slow down the Hoosiers' anemic offense just enough to win the game and stay in the running for a home game in the NIT.