By JOHN BAUERNFEIND | IDS
With a signature win on its résumé after Tuesday night’s victory against Wisconsin, the IU men’s basketball team (12-5, 2-2) will look to raise its winning streak to three against the Northwestern Wildcats (8-10, 1-4) on Saturday.
After the upset, IU Coach Tom Crean said he has seen improvement in his young team.
“They’re just getting better,” Crean said. “I’m not ready to quantify that and say something miraculous has happened. It hasn’t. There is a lot of room for improvement.”
Crean will put that growth to the test against the Wildcats, who enter the contest coming off a home loss to the Michigan State Spartans, 54-40. It was the fourth time this season Northwestern has failed to score more than 50 points, and its record in those games is 1-3.
The Wildcats’ lone Big Ten win was when they didn’t reach the half-century mark. Last Sunday they beat Illinois 49-43 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Northwestern Coach Chris Collins is in his first year with the program. Before arriving in Evanston, Ill., Collins had served on Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching staff at Duke since 2000, and since 2008 he was the Blue Devils’ associate head coach.
Collins was named Northwestern’s head coach last March, and is the son of Doug Collins, last season’s head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers’.
On the season, Collins’ Wildcats average 62.4 points per game as a team, but that figure drops to 51.2 points per game in Big Ten play, where they rank last in the conference.
They allow opponents to score an average of 68 points per game, and their scoring margin of minus 16.8 points in Big Ten play is 4.8 points worse than the next closest team, Nebraska.
On the season, Northwestern is taking more than 21 3-pointers per game. In Big Ten play, however, the Wildcats are shooting just 24.3 percent from beyond the arc. IU has been the best 3-point shooting team percentage-wise in Big Ten play at 40.9 percent.
The Wildcats also struggle on the glass. In Big Ten play, they rank last in rebound margin per game, getting out-rebounded by almostnine rebounds per game.
In contrast, the Hoosiers rank third in rebound margin in Big Ten games, pulling in an average of five more rebounds than its opponents.
Northwestern’s top scorer is senior guard/forward Drew Crawford, who averages 15 points per game, which ranks 12th in the conference.
IU sophomore guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell leads the Big Ten in points per game with 17.9, edging out the likes of Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, who both average 17.7 points per game.
Crean said anything can happen in Big Ten play, even against the conference’s lower-level teams.
“But we’ve got to come back, and if we’ve any different level of feel for Northwestern, they just beat Illinois.,” Crean said.