The Cats are in town
Archie Miller will be going for the 200th win of his coaching career when Indiana opens Big Ten play on Wednesday night against Northwestern.
It will be only the third game this season that IU has played in Bloomington, and the Hoosiers’ first on Branch McCracken Court against a high-major program. To date, Indiana and North Carolina are the only Power 5 teams to play at least five of their seven non-conference games on a road or neutral court, so the Hoosiers will be glad to be home.
Here’s a quick look at the matchup:
Even after Sunday’s runaway, 79-65 win over No. 4 Michigan State, it’s difficult to get a read on Northwestern. The Wildcats have played only two opponents with a pulse, losing to Pitt at home by one in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, then blowing away the Spartans. That said, Northwestern did do a few things Sunday that the ‘Cats of yore would not have done, most notably building a lead and keeping it. It feels like this Northwestern program has been on the wrong end of close losses often in the past couple seasons, so to not only get a win, but a decisive victory over a top-five team has to do wonders for the mentality of Chris Collins’ program moving forward. I suppose we’ll see soon enough.
Northwestern was picked to finish last in this year’s official unofficial Big Ten media preseason poll, occupying a fairly familiar place in the league basement after going 8-23 last winter. The Wildcats return four starters, in addition to 68.4% of their total minutes and 71.9% of their total points from the 2019-20 squad. But, sort of like last year, it’s youthful experience. This year’s roster doesn’t include a single senior. The hope, though, is that the returning experience Northwestern does have can develop into meaningful production soon enough. Perhaps Sunday was a start.
Sophomore guard Boo Buie was the breakout star against the Spartans, going off for a career-high 30 points, while shooting 9-for-15 from the field and 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. It’s clear he’s building confidence, and he enters Wednesday’s game averaging 22.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists across his past two games. And it’s not just that he’s scoring. Buie is also operating as a facilitator within Collins’ offense, leading the Wildcats in assists in their last four games. His 28 assists through the first five games are the most for a Wildcat since Bryant McIntosh had 29 to open the 2017-18 campaign. According to KenPom.com, Buie ranks 17th nationally, and second among qualified Power Five players, with a 42.1% assist rate.
Similarly, junior forward Pete Nance looks like he’s coming into his own. Nance recorded a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds against Michigan State, and has now grabbed at least seven rebounds in five consecutive games. He currently leads all Big Ten players with 7.2 defensive rebounds per game and is the first Wildcat in the Collins era to post at least 40 rebounds through the first five games of the season in back-to-back years. At 6-foot-10, Nance can be a real matchup problem, just as Michigan State learned over the weekend.
Nance’s frontcourt classmate, Miller Kopp, didn’t have nearly the same imprint on the box score against the Spartans, but he’s a name Indiana will have circled on Wednesday night. In last January’s game in Bloomington, Kopp provided 12 points — stepping out and drilling a couple 3s — five boards and three assists in the Wildcats’ 66-62 loss. Last season, Kopp started all 31 games for Northwestern and posted six 20-point efforts — the most by an underclassman in the Collins era. So far, Kopp is averaging 14.0 points, while shooting 51.4% from the field, 50% (10-for-20) from beyond the arc and 84.6% from the line. He is the only Big Ten player averaging more than 14 points, while also shooting better than 50% from both the field and the perimeter and making at least 80% of his free throws.
Things to watch
Northwestern can move
The Wildcats already look a little different this year. That is, they’re playing a whole lot faster than we’re used to seeing from a Chris Collins team. As The Athletic recently illustrated, Northwestern ranks seventh nationally in average possession length (14.2 seconds) this season. That’s a four-second jump from where the ‘Cats were just three seasons ago. As its currently constructed, Northwestern has the ability to really move in transition.
The Indiana team we’ve seen across the first month of the season continues its steady climb toward elite defensive status. Guarding the perimeter will be especially important on Wednesday. The Wildcats not only like to shoot 3-pointers, they’re good at it. Northwestern is averaging 11.4 made 3-pointers per game, while shooting 42% from deep. IU, meanwhile, has seen its opponents shoot merely 27.5% from beyond the arc.
Armaan’s on a roll
Make it back-to-back games that sophomore guard Armaan Franklin has set a personal best in the scoring column. After going off for 19 points against North Alabama, Franklin followed up with a 20-point effort last weekend against Butler. Over the same two-game span, Franklin has hit 10 of his 14 3-pointers while becoming the first IU player since James Blackmon in 2017 to make at least five 3s in consecutive games. For the season, Franklin is shooting 46.2 from deep.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Indiana (5-2) vs. Northwestern (4-1)
Where? Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
When? Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Channel? BTN | Brandon Gaudin (p-b-p), Jess Settles (analyst)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Errek Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Indiana -8 1⁄2