Men’s Basketball: Defense critical to Northwestern’s chance to upset Indiana


Daily file photo by Zack Laurence

Scottie Lindsey attempts to block a pass. The Wildcats’ defense will need to be in top form this weekend against a great Indiana offense.

Ben Pope, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

Days after holding No. 7 Maryland to just 17 second-half points in a near upset, Northwestern will need to again rely on its unique defensive tactics against No. 25 Indiana on Saturday.

The Wildcats (15-5, 3-4 Big Ten) will face a Hoosiers (16-3, 6-0) team that has converted 52.3 percent of its shot attempts this season, the highest percentage among all major conference teams and the third-highest among all 351 Division I colleges. But Indiana hasn’t seen anything quite like NU’s matchup zone defense so far this year.

Coach Chris Collins has admitted he can’t precisely describe the constantly evolving formation, which originated from a standard 2-3 zone and transformed into an amorphous hybrid zone that focuses especially, but not excessively, on opponents’ top scorers.

Players begin in a fairly standard zone shape but rotate on and off opposing players as the opposing offense runs its plays. The defenders on the back line, often forwards such as junior Sanjay Lumpkin and freshman Aaron Falzon, watch the offense’s movement and, along with the coaching staff on the bench, help direct their frontcourt teammates where to go.

Speaking last week about the one-of-a-kind system, Collins said its originality has not only “kept teams off-balance” but also created a level of defensive confidence within the roster that didn’t exist last season.

However, the Cats have dropped back-to-back games since then, despite holding the Terrapins — the second-most efficient power-conference offense — to a season-low 48 regulation points on Tuesday.

On Saturday, NU will need its unusual schemes to work as smoothly as possible. The Hoosiers rank first in the Big Ten in points per game, overall field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. Additionally, Indiana has been on a roll since Dec. 5, winning 11 straight games, and is a perfect 11-0 at home.

Illinois coach John Groce saw Indiana’s explosiveness firsthand Tuesday in his team’s 103-69 loss in Bloomington — a game in which the Hoosiers hit a school-record 19 3-pointers. He said after the game that he found it “literally amazing” that his team kept the game close for much of the first half.

The Cats will need a bounce-back performance from sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh after a Tuesday performance where he shot at his lowest efficiency (5-for-18) since Nov. 23. McIntosh will likely go head-to-head against Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell, who is one of only three players in the conference — along with McIntosh and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine —  who rank in the top-10 in both points and assists per game.

NU may employ a similar attitude toward Ferrell that it did against Maryland’s Melo Trimble, who scored a game-high 18 points Tuesday, but needed an inefficient 18 field goal attempts to get there.

Our whole motto is if you can hold a great shooter … to a 1-to-1 point-to-shot ratio, you’ve done a good job,” Collins said after Tuesday’s loss.

Last year, Indiana ended the Cats’ 2014-15 season, and any crazy dreams of the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, with a 71-56 victory in the second round of the Big Ten tournament.

If NU wants to break its legendary NCAA Tournament streak this season, it needs to start winning against supposedly superior teams. Saturday’s contest against the Hoosiers offers yet another crucial opportunity to do so.

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