Indiana will be looking for its 20th victory overall and its 10th win in Big Ten play Wednesday when it travels to Northwestern for a 7 p.m. ET tip against the Wildcats. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Prior to departing for Evanston, Ill. on Tuesday, Indiana coach Tom Crean talked to media members about facing a Northwestern team that has won three games in a row.
Crean said he believed that Northwestern’s current win streak has been coming all season. The Wildcats had lost several close games before going on their current streak that includes victories over Iowa, Minnesota and Penn State.
“It’s been coming (for Northwestern) because they’ve been so close in so many games,’’ Crean said. “You go back to the Maryland game where they were up eighteen in that game on the road and lose really with a second to go. They’ve been in so many games that have come down to one or two possessions.
“They’re extremely well coached with Chris Collins. There’s no doubt he’s got a tremendous staff, led by Brian James, who’s a tremendous coach. They’re developing their players and the younger guys are getting a lot better. The older guys are improving. They’re playing with great confidence.’’
Crean said it’s easy to see why Northwestern has had a lot of recent success. He said the Wildcats have been shooting really well from beyond the 3-point arc. In the last three games, they have shot better than 44 percent from 3. Against Minnesota, on the road, Northwestern connected on 15 3-point field goals.
“Numbers wise, in the last three games, they’re shooting over 44 percent from three, which is a big jump from where they were,’’ Crean said. “They’ve cut down the opponent’s trips to the foul line. Their field goal percentage defense, three point and regular defense is much better. They’re playing with great confidence. They’re shooting the ball, really when you look at it, as well as anybody. They’ve always had the shooters and their ability to space.
“What they have that a lot of don’t have is they have a five-man that they can go to but they can also play through him. When you have that in this league, you’re unique. Just look at Wisconsin and the way that they play with Frank Kaminsky. Alex Olah can do a lot of different things. He can set the offense from the top, he can get it in dribble handoffs, he can shoot from three, certainly can score at the post. They can play through him in the low post. He maneuvers the defense in the middle of the zones. They’re going to be an extremely tough challenge. They always were going to be.’’
Crean said that Northwestern is particularly good at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Northwestern is very hard to play,’’ Crean said. “They’re extremely hard to play in their building. And it’s going to be that much harder because they’re playing with all this confidence that they have right now. Our guys have got to continue to have that resolve. They’ve got to continue to go in and understand what we need to take away, what we need to try to get. It comes back to our defensive rebounding, our transition defense, taking care of the ball to a pretty good degree, and trying to get the pace of the game going the right way but at the same time being aggressive in our tactic.”
Indiana is coming off an 84-54 victory over Rutgers on the road on Sunday. That improved IU’s road record in conference play to 3-5. The Northwestern game is the final conference road game of the year.
One challenge that Northwestern poses defensively is an active zone defense. But Crean doesn’t think that will be a problem for his team.
“We’ve seen zone defenses throughout the year,’’ Crean said. “I don’t think that our guys are going to get squeamish at that. That’s just the potential for more open jump shots. The key for us is to get good movement. There are different places that we feel we can attack in that zone, but the bottom line is the ball has to move no matter what it is. Their zone is, if they play it, more of a two three and for the most part looks like it’s based with the Syracuse zone or the way Michigan is playing their zone now, so we expect to see trapping. We expect to see trapping on the base line.
“Our job is just to keep making sure that we’re moving the ball the best way possible.”