The first of the two evening games on Thursday pits two teams that finished the season very differently against each other. Northwestern is playing its best basketball of the season, while Indiana crossed the finish line on its longest losing streak.
The two teams met just a few weeks ago in Evanston, and the Wildcats pulled off a 72-65 win behind 23 points from Tre Demps and a double-double by Alex Olah. Troy Williams had 21 to lead Indiana, while star freshman James Blackmon, Jr struggled mightily. The conference All-Freshman team selection went 1-10 from the floor and managed just 6 points.
When Indiana has the ball
The Hoosiers lost there final three games in the regular season, and haven't strung together consecutive wins since mid-January. Offense is the name of the game for Tom Crean's squad, as Indiana led the Big Ten in scoring at 78 points per game, making a conference-best 41 percent of its three-point attempts. Yogi Ferrell and Blackmon both average right around 16 points a night, but have struggled a bit during the recent skid. Blackmon, in particular, has had a rough time, shooting 13-38 (34.2 percent) over that span. The Hoosiers need as much offense as they can get, as the defense is among the worst in the country, allowing nearly 72 points per game. Indiana is squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, and needs a win in the worst way if it hopes to punch its ticket to the big dance.
When Northwestern has the ball
After losing their first 10 games in 2015, the Wildcats won five of their final seven to end the season. Demps and Olah are big reasons why, as the two have paced Northwestern on both sides of the ball for head coach Chris Collins. Olah, who averages just under 12 points a game and produced four double-doubles in conference play, was fifth in the Big Ten in rebounding (6.9 rpg) and second in blocked shots (1.8 bpg). The Wildcats' slowed down style of play will provide an interesting contrast to Indiana. A win would put Northwestern at .500 for the season, and help its resume to make some sort of postseason tournament.
This will be a game of contrasting styles. If the Hoosiers are able to push tempo, freeing up their perimeter shooters like Ferrell and Blackmon and creating driving lanes for Williams, Indiana should score. Conversely, if Northwestern can slow things down and be methodical, run its offense through Olah, and contest Indiana's shots in the halfcourt, the Wildcats could stay hot.