The minute after: Northwestern – In the hall

Thoughts on an 84-83 loss to the Wildcats:

This isn’t the Northwest of yore.

The Wildcats are one of the best defensive teams in the country. That was shown today. While they don’t overwhelm with pressure or athleticism, don’t run a specialized system that they’ve run for years that they recruit for, their ability to steal and block the ball was a major factor in this one. Northwestern surrendered almost a quarter of its ownership (22 percent) to Indiana this afternoon, and it helped put them at a serious disadvantage in terms of points dropped. The Wildcats won that fight 25-6.

And yet, even though the Hoosiers were sitting at just .88 points per possession about halfway through the second half and in the double digits, a late rally was almost enough to secure a comeback win. Thanks to some hyper-efficient attacks down the stretch, Indiana finished 1.12 points per possession. It’s the second most efficient offensive performance against the Wildcats this year. Indiana’s 83 points was also the second-highest scored against Northwestern all season.

Against a Wildcats team that’s mediocre on offense, it should have been more than enough. But without Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson in the lineup, Indiana’s defense continues to struggle. Northwestern were so unstoppable on offense early in the game and taking a 17-point lead that Mike Woodson actually decided to go into zone defense — a sight as rare as any. In the second half, he again threw the Northwest Zone for a stretch.

“We played a lot of zone” said Woodson after the game. “More zone than I’ve ever played as a manager… I’m trying to change it up a bit.”

The 1.14 points per possession Northwestern posted against the Hoosiers today was the best against their high-major competition. The Wildcats have fared better only against UIC (KenPom 270) and Chicago State (KenPom 311) so far this season.

Johnson’s tenacity on the ball as the head of the line for Indiana’s defense is a huge loss. While Jalen Hood-Schifino has been brilliant offensively in the last two contests (54 points, 10 of 15 from 3-point range, 12 assists and six rebounds), his ball pressure isn’t the same. With Indiana’s perimeter defense taking a step back, Northwestern was able to get more straight drives to the rim and capitalize. And with less experience and maturity on defense as a whole, Trayce Jackson-Davis had this to say after the contest.

“The coach had a great plan and I don’t think we followed it at all,” he said. “…It’s not going to go well if you don’t listen to your coaches…They got what they wanted.”

For his part, Jackson-Davis did everything he could. Indiana’s best player, hampered by back problems, played every 40 minutes. He grabbed 24 rebounds, the most by an IU player since Kent Benson caught 23 in 1975. He nearly hit another triple-double and added 18 points and eight assists. But basketball is a team sport. And with the Hoosiers losing two starters, his Herculean effort is now tied to back-to-back game losses.

Since the season started 7-0, the Hoosiers have lost five out of eight. Nebraska is their only high-major win in over a month.

“No one will feel sorry for the Indiana Hoosiers” said Woodson.

As a matter of fact. Indiana has to put his head down and keep trying to figure it out to Johnson and Thompson. Because if the losses continue to pile up, a trip to the NCAA tournament could be on the brink again in March.

Filed by: Northwestern Wildcats