IU-Northwestern Gameday Preview: 3 Key Things to Watch

On Sunday at 1:00 ET, the second-ranked Indiana Hoosiers (15-2, 3-1 B10) will head to Evanston to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (11-7, 2-3 B10) on the Big Ten Network.

Jerod and Ryan will be supporting Tom Crean’s brothers-in-law with NFL duties, but Zach and Andy will be here to guide you through another episode of The Assembly Call after the game.

IU-Northwestern Gameday Info

IU-Northwestern Preview

Northwestern: Three Things to Watch

1. Three-Point Shooting

The Wildcats take nearly 42 percent of their field goal attempts from three-point range, and they come into the game shooting a solid 37.2 percent from deep, which ranks in the Top 50 nationally. Seven players have already attempted at least 43 triples, and five of them make at least 37 percent from beyond the arc.

Northwestern’s top two snipers are Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski, both of whom have made at least 41 percent from three-point range this season.

Consequently, perimeter defense will be important for the Hoosiers. Against Wisconsin on Tuesday, the Badgers canned seven three-pointers in the first 28 minutes of the game, but IU tightened up the defense and did not allow another one over the last 12 minutes. The defensive effort simply has to be more consistent for the Hoosiers.

2. Reggie Hearn

With John Shurna graduating after last season, offense was already a concern, but following a season-ending injury to Drew Crawford those concerns were magnified.

Senior Reggie Hearn has answered the bell though despite missing a couple games of his own due to injury. He logged 39 minutes and scored 20 points in Northwestern’s win at Illinois earlier this week, and he’s scored in double figures in all but two contests.

As mentioned above, Hearn has been an outstanding outside shooter, but he’s also making nearly 59 percent of his two-pointers. He also ranks among the Top 50 in free throw rate with a 65.4 mark this season. Hearn leads the team in steals with 1.4 per game and grabs nearly five rebounds as well.

Expect Victor Oladipo to draw the assignment against Hearn, and if he can hold him to around 10 or 12 points, I like IU’s chances.

3. Tempo

In both of Indiana’s losses this year, the opponent was able to impose its will from a tempo standpoint, and perhaps the main criticism from Tuesday’s loss centered around IU allowing the game to be played at Wisconsin’s pace.

With an adjusted tempo of just over 63 possessions per game, Northwestern ranks nearly 300th in the country, so the Hoosiers will again need to find ways to speed up their opponent.

Northwestern is 1-5 in games where their opponents have scored at least 70 points, so that’s a good target for the Hoosiers in this one.

Indiana: Three Things to Watch

1. Bench Production

Once again, IU got very little scoring from its bench against Wisconsin, as Will Sheehey, Remy Abell, Jeremy Hollowell, and Hanner Perea combined for just two points on 1-for-8 shooting. They did grab 10 rebounds and accounted for three of IU’s seven assists, but after consistently sparking the team early in the year, the bench is officially in a funk in conference play.

Sheehey was held scoreless for the second straight game. Questions have come up about a potential injury given the sleeve he’s been wearing on his elbow of late. It is worth noting that he shed the sleeve at halftime against Wisconsin.

Abell has been in a bit of a slump of his own, going 5-for-18 from the field and just 1-for-6 from long range over the last six games. Not surprisingly, he’s scored more than four points just once during that stretch and has eight assists compared to seven turnovers.

As for Hollowell and Perea, neither is logging significant minutes, and Tuesday’s game made it fairly clear that Tom Crean doesn’t trust them in tight contests. Derek Elston’s knee seems to be improving, so perhaps he can give the team a lift if he’s able to return.

The Hoosiers undoubtedly have talented starters, all of whom can score effectively, but the team won’t be able to excel in Big Ten play without more consistent production from its reserves.

2. Rebounding

I mentioned rebounding as a key to the Wisconsin game, and to IU’s credit the Hoosiers did an outstanding job on the glass and outrebounded the Badgers by a 35-26 count. Obviously that wasn’t enough to win the game, but it’s a good sign given how strong Wisconsin has been on the boards.

It also bodes well against a Northwestern squad that has really struggled on the glass. The Wildcats rank outside of the Top 200 in defensive rebounding percentage, which is bad news against an IU team that grabs over 40 percent of its misses. Look for plenty of second chance opportunities for the Hoosiers in this one.

Northwestern is even worse on the offensive glass, ranking nearly 300th in offensive rebounding percentage, while the Hoosiers sit just outside of the Top 50 in defensive rebounding percentage.

If there’s one area that jumps off the page from a statistical standpoint, this is it.

3. Cody Zeller

Zeller was dominant in the first half against Wisconsin, scoring 18 points on perfect 8-for-8 shooting, but the second half was a different story. He struggled to consistently get the ball and was unable to carve out much space for himself inside. Zeller went just 1-for-6 from the field and added three free throws to finish with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Even though that marked the ninth straight game where Zeller has scored at least 15 points, it was frustrating to see such a quiet second half on the heels of his first half explosion. Part of that can be attributed to solid defense and halftime adjustments from Wisconsin, part can be placed on the shoulders of teammates who were unable to get him the ball, and part goes to Zeller, who has to be more aggressive in establishing position and demanding the ball.

Either way, Zeller should have a large advantage over whoever Northwestern throws at him defensively.

The Wildcats have just four rotation players who stand 6-7 or taller, and three of them are freshmen. Seven-foot frosh Alex Olah is the only Northwestern player over 6-8, and he’ll clearly have his hands full when Northwestern plays man-to-man defense.

Given the matchup, this game feels like a golden opportunity for Zeller to piece together two strong halves, and I am interested to see how much the Hoosiers focus on getting him involved throughout the game.

Final Thought

Since Crawford was lost for the season, Northwestern’s only wins have come against Texas State, Brown, Penn State, and an Illinois team that has really struggled since entering Big Ten play. Given the large disparity between these two teams from both a talent and a statistical standpoint, this seems like a game the Hoosiers should win.

That being said, the Wildcats won’t beat themselves with turnovers, and if they can slow the game down and knock down three-pointers, they can certainly keep it close.

For the Hoosiers, I’m interested to see the mindset of the team following a disappointing performance against Wisconsin. Picking up a third road win this early in conference play would be huge, and the team has another winnable game coming up against Penn State before the schedule starts to get a little tougher.

Look for another solid performance from Zeller, a bounce back game from Jordan Hulls, and strong defense from Victor Oladipo, as the Hoosiers win by a dozen.


Listen to Andy Sunday on The Assembly Call. Follow him on Twitter at @AndyBottoms.

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