BLOOMINGTON – As expected, Northwestern came out against Indiana with the strategy of denying post-ups for Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk. The Wildcats doubled the post early, forcing the Indiana big men to pass the ball back out to the perimeter.
That strategy worked for Arkansas and it worked for Maryland when the Terrapins used it. Unfortunately for Northwestern, the Hoosiers were much crisper on the offensive end in the first few minutes and were able to get the ball in the post anyway with some creative passing. That was one area Archie Miller said he wanted to see improve in this game that he felt would help Indiana find some higher-percentage shots: moving the ball more effectively. Indiana did that for a stretch tonight, getting out in transition often and whipping the ball around the arc to make the Wildcats defend the whole court. Some lobs over the top when the Wildcats fronted the post were somewhat effective in getting the ball inside, as well.
To combat that latter strategy, the Wildcats switched to a zone defense and that slowed down the Indiana attack. There still is not enough penetration from the guards and Indiana is reluctant to shoot the ball from beyond the arc, making the zone difficult to beat. When the Wildcats began play zone, Indiana stagnated, passing the ball around the arc uncertainly and seeming to wait for someone to attack the rim. There was some good offensive rebounding during this stretch, but it still wasn't pretty offense and it shows how much work the Hoosiers have left to do before they become effective on that end of the court. There were also just some flat out bad unforced turnovers, which drew some scattered boos from the Assembly Hall crowd. Jerome Hunter was maybe the most willing to try to bust the zone with 3-point attempts, but both of his shots from long distance were way off the mark (one of them actually banked in from the top of the key, but that's more about luck rather than effective offense). At halftime, the Hoosiers have 11 turnovers and 10 made field goals.
To make matters worse for Indiana, Northwestern got just about whatever it wanted on the offensive end for long stretches of the first half. There were too many easy passes into the post, too many easy catches, not enough pressure on the ball on the perimeter. The Wildcats made five of their first seven attempts from the field, including several near the rim because of bad rotations or over-aggressive defense. Northwestern is shooting 48% from the field at halftime and used an 11-0 stretch late in the half to take the lead.
The only saving grace for the Hoosiers has been the Wildcats themselves. The bottomline right now is this: the Wildcats aren't a good team or even an average one. They are inexperienced and they make a lot of underclassmen mistakes (Northwestern players stepped out of bounds with no one around them at least three times in the first half by my count, for example). I still don't expect Indiana to lose this game (probably), but make no mistake, the issues that have caused back-to-back losses are still there and visible for all to see. The ball has to move better and someone has to step up and hit some shots from beyond the arc. I thought Al Durham would be the one to do it, but his last 3-pointer of the opening half clanked off the side of the backboard. Aside from 6-8 minutes to start the game, this was essentially a continuation of Saturday's loss to Maryland, only against a far less talented opponent.