Let that sink in a bit. IU is 3-0 on the road in the toughest conference in the country.
To put that in perspective, the Hoosiers won just three road conference games all of last season.
Indiana (16-2, 4-1) is doing exactly what it needs to be doing, it just isn't doing it in convincing fashion.
The Hoosiers jumped out early against Northwestern and led by as much as 17 points in the first half. They also held the Wildcats to just 17 points in the first half.
The problem is that they were out scored in the second half and the offense was ineffective for long stretches of the game. IU hasn't played a full game of basketball against a quality Big Ten opponent yet and appear to be regressing as the season pushes forward.
IU hasn't been able to get out and push the tempo for a few games now. Most of it's opponents would rather drop back to play transition defense rather than scrap for loss balls or fight for rebounds. The problem is that IU isn't as effective in the half court.
Here are a few things that stood out against Northwestern:
- Cody Zeller is still the team leader. He had another double-double and has been the lone consistent player lately for IU. While he still needs to be more aggressive and work on finishing around the basket, he is more than likely headed to the NBA Draft at the end of the season. The offense can flow through Zeller but he needs to become more of a force on defense. His size alone should translate to at least two blocks per game, instead of his 1.3 average.
- The bench is still MIA. Will Sheehey showed up, if you call 2-for-5 shooting and four fouls showing up. IU was supposed to have the deepest bench in the Big Ten, but the collective group hasn't had an impact on a single game. The bench has accounted for 11 points over the past three games. Indiana needs to figure out why the bench is failing so hard, and fast. The Hoosiers need depth now more than ever, even 10 points from the second stringers would help.
- IU struggled against Northwestern's zone defense. In the second half, the Wildcats switched to a 1-3-1 zone and IU had no idea how to handle it. With the speed and passing ability that this team possesses, it should be able to demolish any type of zone defense. Victor Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell are the ideal type of players to break down a zone with their ability to penetrate and find the open man. IU needs to run more set plays and use effective motion to break down opponents, especially if they want to over take Michigan in the Big Ten.
- Referee Ed Hightower is bad and he should feel bad. 41 total fouls were called over the course of this game. That is just a staggering amount that brought the game to a screeching halt. There was zero consistency in the calls and its a wonder that Hightower is still employed. Here is an analysis of Hightower over the course of the season. He's not the only perpetrator; all of the Big Ten refs have been suspect so far this season and the inconsistency has to stop.
Indiana will have a tune up game when Penn State comes to Bloomington on Wednesday. They have to figure things out fast before No. 13 Michigan State comes to Assembly Hall on Sunday.
All of the problems that IU seems to have are fixable but the Hoosiers have to figure out what kind of team they want to be and they need to do it fast. The style of play they had at the beginning of the season won't work in the Big Ten and IU has to adjust.
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