The No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers attempt to rebound from just their second loss of the season when they square off with the Northwestern Wildcats in a Big Ten Conference bout at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Indiana sits at 15-2 and 3-1 in conference play, racking up signature wins along the way against Georgetown, North Carolina, and Minnesota. It has been nationally ranked for 23 consecutive weeks, its longest such streak since it appeared in 71 straight polls from 1989 to 1994.
Northwestern started its season a red-hot 6-0, but it has failed to win back- to-back games since then, losing seven of 12 to put itself at 11-7 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten.
Indiana holds a convincing 110-48 advantage in the all-time series with Northwestern, and although the Hoosiers won the last matchup on Feb. 15, 2012 (71-66), the Wildcats have claimed six of the last eight meetings.
The Hoosiers started the year No. 1 and slipped following a Dec. 15 loss to Butler (88-86 in OT). They are likely to take another tumble in the ranks after their 64-59 home loss to Wisconsin last Tuesday. The Hoosiers had by far their worst offensive performance of the season against the Big Ten's top- rated defensive attack, shooting 37 percent from the field, including just 3- of-12 from 3-point range. Cody Zeller did all he could to lift his team to victory, tallying his fourth double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Christian Watford netted 11 points in the setback, while Victory Oladipo added 10 points.
Indiana's latest outing was especially shocking considering it boasts the nation's best scoring offense at 85.4 ppg. Zeller has firmly established himself as one of the nation's top forwards, putting up 16.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, and more than a block and a steal per contest all while shooting greater than 63 percent from the floor. Oladipo (13.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) has also been incredibly efficient, ranking first in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (.669). Watford (12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Jordan Hulls (11.2 ppg. 3.6 apg) are both deadly from 3-point range, combing to make 68 treys at nearly a 50 percent clip, and Will Sheehey adds 10.7 ppg to the mix. The fundamentally sound Hoosiers also rank first in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense (.368) and free-throw percentage (.743).
The Wildcats' prospects have been looking up of late with wins in two of their last three, including their most impressive triumph of the season, a 68-54 decision on the road against nationally-ranked Illinois. They shot 47.2 percent from the field and 83.9 percent from the foul line in a game they never trailed, paced by 20 points from Reggie Hearn. Jared Swopshire and Alex Marcotullio scored 12 points apiece, while Dave Sobolewski (10 points, six assists) and Tre Demps (10 points) rounded out the great all-around performance.
In a brutally tough Big Ten, neither Northwestern's scoring offense (65.9 ppg) nor its scoring defense (61.8 ppg) stand out, as it ranks in the lower half of the league in both categories. Hearn has been the team's catalyst, scoring 14.1 ppg on nearly 51 percent from the field, including 25-of-61 from 3-point range (.410). Sobolewski puts up 11.4 ppg and is the conference's fifth- leading distributor with 4.6 apg, while Swopshire adds 9.1 ppg and a team-best 5.9 rpg. The Wildcats' biggest advantage comes in the turnover battle, as they commit just 11.2 miscues per contest for a +2.1 turnover margin.