Previewing IU-Northwestern

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I didn’t see my preview on the Post-Tribune web site, so I’m putting it below the jump:

By Andy Proffet

Post-Tribune correspondent

BLOOMINGTON — Northwestern’s last game against the No. 2 team in the country didn’t go all that well for the Wildcats.

Michigan was the second-ranked team in the country when the Wolverines came to Evanston for the Big Ten season opener on Jan. 3. Michigan left with a 94-66 victory.

Today, it’s Indiana (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten) that comes to Northwestern (11-7, 2-3) ranked No. 2, although that spot in the polls likely won’t last long.

The Hoosiers come in off a 64-59 loss at home to Wisconsin on Tuesday. IU still boasts the top-scoring offense in the country, averaging 85.4 ppg. But the bench hasn’t provided much of an offensive spark as of late. In IU’s last two games, the reserves have contributed just five points and one field goal.

Northwestern is aiming for a second consecutive win over a ranked opponent, having defeated No. 23 Illinois 68-54 on Thursday night. It would be just the second time in school history the Wildcats have done so, defeating No. 18 Minnesota and No. 7 Michigan State in consecutive games in 2009.

“You look at their wins on the road, at Illinois, at Baylor, they’ve been to some tough places and came away with wins,” Indiana assistant coach Steve McClain said. “So going to their place, we know it’s a game where you’ve got to go in and be sharp defensively.”

“It’s a little bit of a different environment,” IU’s Jordan Hulls said of playing at Welsh-Ryan Arena. “It’s a smaller gym, but it gets pretty rowdy in there. You just have to have the same mindset that you have when you play in every other gym and play together, communicate.”

The Wildcats boast two double-digit scorers in senior guard Reggie Hearn (14.1 ppg) and sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski (11.4 ppg). Graduate transfer forward Jared Swopshire, who spent four seasons at Louisville before coming to Northwestern, is averaging 9.1 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Wildcats.

“He definitely (stepped up) the other night at Illinois,” McClain said of Hearn, who scored 20 points in the win over the Illini. “(Sobolewski) played a lot of minutes last year … (so) he can tell people when they are in the wrong spot and he’s such a good driver, he’s a good reader and he finds a way to get to that rim.”

Northwestern has won the last three games between the teams in Evanston, although each of those wins came pre-Cody Zeller. IU’s sophomore center had 23 points in last season’s lone meeting, a 71-66 win in Bloomington.

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