If you need a reason for Northwestern's success so far this season, look no further than sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh.
McIntosh, a Greenburg, Ind., native, returns to his home state Saturday when the Wildcats take on Indiana at noon at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
"We have a lot of respect for their players," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. "Tre Demps is one of the harder matchups around, (and) Bryant McIntosh continues to get better and better."
Northwestern enters Saturday's game at 15-5, 3-4 in the Big Ten. The 15 wins matched all of last years total, when it finished 15-17 with a 6-12 conference record.
This was during a time when McIntosh was just a freshman guard adjusting to the college game.
However, McIntosh improved quickly, and by the end of the 2014-15 season had dished out a Northwestern freshman record of 150 assists. That total also marked the third-highest season total in program history. All this while playing 33.3 minutes per game.
This year, he's taken on a much bigger role in both passing and scoring. Thanks to an increase of 2.2 minutes per game in playing time this season, McIntosh has raised his scoring average by 4.3 points, his rebounding by one board per game, and his assist average by 4.5 per game compared to last year.
McIntosh's uage percentage this season is also indicative of his increased role. This year, he has used a team-high 25.2 percent of his team's possesions or plays compared to 23.3 percent in 2014-15, third-most on the team that year.
"They have a great point guard," IU junior forward Troy Williams said. "...(both guards) can shoot the ball."
McIntosh's play presents arguably the most compelling matchup so far in this conference season for Indiana senior guard Yogi Ferrell.
McIntosh is shooting 45.2 percent from the field through 20 games this season, the best shooting percentage of any starting point guard Ferrell has defended this season.
Even more compelling, though, is the matchup of two players hailing from the state of Indiana. Neither got a chance to play each other as Bryant's Greensburg Pirates were in Class 3A of Indiana High School Athletic Association classification, while Ferrell's Park Tudor Panthers were in 2A. The tournament success factor which allowed private schools such as Park Tudor to move up classifications if they had a successful postseason also had not yet been introduced until after Ferrell graduated.
Bigger than that individual matchup, however, is the Wildcats' need for a signature at this point in the season.
Despite a 15-5 record overall, their conference record still has much to be desired. Northwestern's three Big Ten wins this season have been over Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin - teams with an RPI of 150, 217 and 81, respectively. That won't do much for its hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time ever, but a win over No. 25 Indiana would certainly improve its resume and add to it a signature win it desperately needs.
"We'll have our hands full with them, and our guys are excited to play, I know that," Crean said.