Men’s Basketball: Predictions for Indiana and Big Ten Tournament

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Northwestern begins its Big Ten tournament play as the No. 10 seed Thursday against No. 7 seed Indiana, a foe the Wildcats vanquished in impressive fashion last month at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Coach Chris Collins said the key to the game for the Cats (15-16, 6-12 Big Ten) is to find a way to outscore the conference-best offense of the Hoosiers (19-12, 9-9).

“We have to do a good job defending the 3-point line,” he said. “We have to do a much better job identifying their shooters. And then, be efficient offensively ourselves. … It’s not going to be a low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game.”

NU will be buoyed by the return of a fully-healthy McIntosh, who, after being lethargic against Michigan and limited at Iowa, said he has recovered from dealing with a sinus infection and migraine headaches over the past two weeks.

And after missing much of the season with a foot injury, senior guard JerShon Cobb will be making his third straight start since returning for NU’s senior night win. The veteran figures to be an important presence for a team that lacks experience in the postseason.

With these developments, the Cats can’t be feeling bad about their chances against the Hoosiers, but a Big Ten title appears out of the question. NU would need to win four consecutive games, likely two of them versus top-10 teams, and earn the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA tournament.

But University President Morton Schapiro hasn’t given up on the dream.

“I think we’re going to beat Indiana on Thursday, I think we’re going to beat Maryland on Friday,” Schapiro told The Daily. “Then I think we’ll win Saturday and Sunday to get the automatic bid,” Schapiro said.

It would be quite a way for NU to break its agonizing streak of never making it to the Big Dance. We asked our writers what they thought about the Cats’ prospects against the Hoosiers and in the Big Ten Tournament.

They were not quite as optimistic.

Alex Putterman: On one hand, NU beat Indiana 72-65 in the teams’ only matchup of the season, Feb. 25 in Evanston.

On the other hand, everything else.

The Cats are underdogs entering their matchup with the Hoosiers. Indiana has a superior record and resume, one of the best players in the conference in Yogi Ferrell and a freshman guard just as good as McIntosh in James Blackmon Jr.

Plus, with the Hoosiers’ firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble, they’re certain to play with maximum urgency. There will be no plays off on defense or lazy shot selection.

NU, meanwhile, may have run out of gas a bit after an exciting stretch toward the end of Big Ten play. In the Cats’ three final conference games, they were blown out by Illinois, needed overtime to beat Michigan — in a game that was more thrilling than impressive — and lost handily to Iowa. A relatively young team may be worn down.

This season has been alright, maybe even better than that, for the NU program, but it will most likely come to an end Thursday.

Jesse Kramer: NU had a good game plan against Indiana in the only regular season meeting a few weeks ago. The Wildcats let the Hoosiers shoot from deep, and Indiana connected fairly well at 12-of-31.

However, the Cats took away the inside, limiting the Hoosiers to 11-of-32 shooting on 2-pointers.

Indiana’s only consistent inside presence is 6-foot-7 Troy Williams. So unless the Hoosiers get ridiculously hot from beyond the arc — admittedly possible with their slew of shooters — they are vulnerable.

NU will edge Indiana to earn a quarterfinal date with No. 2 seed Maryland. A referee unfamiliar with Tom Crean mistakes an emphatic pants adjustment as the Indiana coach’s method of showing up the officials after a questionable call, handing out a momentum-swinging technical foul late in the second half.

The Cats backcourt of junior Tre Demps and McIntosh, the team’s leaders in minutes, will be worn down playing their second game in as many days, allowing Terrapins guard Melo Trimble to lead Maryland into the semifinals.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon laughs at NU coach Chris Collins in the postgame handshake, saying, “We’re a more successful Big Ten program in one year than you’ve been in 60.”

Bobby Pillote: NU should follow the same formula for success it did in its win over Indiana earlier this season: Sit back in the 2-3 zone and let the up-tempo Hoosiers heave an abundance of low-percentage chucks.

The Cats were outshot by 14 field goal attempts in the last matchup, which is typically a recipe for disaster, but won thanks to far better offensive efficiency. Much of that came from Demps, who shot 8-of-12 from the floor. He’ll have to keep riding his late-season hot streak, and a recently dormant McIntosh will have to reemerge for NU to snatch another victory.

As for the tournament bracket, the Cats should breeze past the Hoosiers before dispatching No. 2 seed Maryland in another close, down-to-the-wire contest. Two games is probably the end of the road for this NU squad, but a win over third-seeded Michigan State or sixth-seeded Ohio State (and it will probably be the Buckeyes) isn’t totally out of the question.

But the Cats wouldn’t stand a chance against top-seeded Wisconsin in the final.

Sorry, NU fans, the NCAA tournament drought doesn’t end this year.

Twitter: @AlexPutt02

Twitter: @Jesse_Kramer

Twitter: @BobbyPillote