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January 19, 2013Don't underestimate the Northwestern Wildcats. Just ask No. 23 Illinois which was never really in Thursday night's game in Champaign, falling 68-54. Or a Baylor team that has been in and out of the top 25, as the Bears fell on their home court as well back in early December, 74-70.
The Cats have displayed a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde personality, however, losing six home games already. Enigmatic Northwestern is 5-1 as a team on neutral and away courts but just at 6-6 in Evanston.
It's Evanston where this one will be played and based on what Welsh-Ryan Arena ticket prices are going for online, the gym will be full of Indiana red as it often is in these contests.
"It's a little bit of a different environment. It's a smaller gym, but it gets pretty rowdy in there," said IU senior Jordan Hulls. "You just have to have the same mindset that you have when you play in every other gym and play together, communicate and make sure we're doing all the things we can do to win."
Much was made of Indiana not playing a true road game in the non-conference slate but the Hoosiers won two straight road contests to start Big Ten play. And it was usually friendly Assembly Hall where Indiana lost its first Big Ten game on Tuesday night to Wisconsin, 64-59
"It brings us together because that's what you have to be in order to win on the road in the Big Ten," said junior Victor Oladipo. "We're looking forward to it and definitely looking forward to playing at a high level and playing Indiana Basketball."
Oladipo likes what he's seen from his team since Tuesday's upset.
"It's been good," said Oladipo. "We've been emphasizing a lot of things and getting back on track and playing Indiana Basketball. The last couple of games, we've been losing that and we're just getting back into the groove of things and doing a great job of that."
"It's been really competitive with a different edge," said Hulls. "We're just trying to build back that mindset that we need in order to win and focus on defense and rebounding."
Defensively the Hoosiers have to be prepared to be patient as they deal with the Princeton offense of Bill Carmody.
"A lot of back doors that we have to be aware of," said Hulls. "They can all shoot, so they definitely make it a little bit different in that regard, just different than most teams in the style of play that they run in transition."
Personnel wise the Wildcats seem to be dealing better with playing without leading scorer Drew Crawford. The senior forward was lost for the season 10 games in because of shoulder surgery.
"They've had to go through the injury phase and new guys getting into the system," said Indiana associate head coach Steve McClain. "There's no question, they showed at Illinois the other night that this group looks like they're getting more and more comfortable in the system and running the system to what it gives them to each individual."
It's a guy from Indiana that now leads this team in scoring. Fort Wayne Snider grad Reggie Hearn came to Evanston as a walk-on and now the senior is a go-to guy averaging 14.1 points per game. He had 20 points in the win on Thursday.
"He's a veteran in the system," said McClain. "You saw a year ago when they have five veterans out there running that system, it creates unbelievable problems. Reggie is a guy who is a senior and feels like it's time to step up and he definitely did that the other night at Illinois and has shown the ability to step up and have big games."
Dave Sobolewski has continued to progress at point. The sophomore dished six assists against the Illini without a turnover and added 10 points.
"He played a lot of minutes last year, so he got a year of understanding and running the Northwestern system, so he can direct everyone," said McClain. "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. So you've got to do a great job on him or he can have a big night."
Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire has been big of late. The 6-foot-8 forward had 17 in a 16 point win at Penn State and 12 points and six boards in Champaign. Redshirt freshman Tre Demps has been one of the better sixth men in the league. The 6-foot-2 Texan has scored in double figures in seven of the last nine games after fairly limited production over the first nine games of the year.
It's a big freshman that Carmody goes to the middle. 7-foot-1, 275-pound Alex Olah starts in the middle and comes all the way from Timisoara, Romania after spending some high school time in Indiana at Traders Point Christian Academy. Right now he's more of a space eater than a scorer (6.6 ppg).
Olah, Swopshire and company will need a lot of help on the boards on Sunday at the Wildcats are last in the league in rebounding margin and rank No. 294 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
For more on the Wildcats, in-game chat and broadcast details, check
out the Hoosier
Game Day page.
Here's a look at the expected starters for Northwestern: