Coming off just its second loss at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall this season, Indiana men’s basketball enters a two-game week filled with travel in the closing stages of the Big Ten regular season schedule.
Indiana has a short turnaround from Saturday’s loss to No. 18 Illinois, traveling to take on Northwestern at 9 p.m. Tuesday night in Evanston, Illinois. Indiana sits at 16-6 overall and 7-5 in conference play, while Northwestern is 11-10. However, Northwestern is only 4-8 against Big Ten opponents.
Indiana has seemingly conquered its road woes with wins against Maryland and Nebraska in its last two away games, but most of Northwestern’s success has come at home with a 7-5 record.
Here are a few themes to take note of ahead of the Hoosiers’ sole matchup with the Wildcats this season:
Mixed bag of emotions surrounding Kopp’s return
Senior forward Miller Kopp will make his return to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the first time as a Hoosier after spending three seasons with the Wildcats. In that time, Kopp shot 36% from 3-point range through 87 games and averaged at least 10 points per game in his sophomore and junior campaigns.
“It’s something I’ve definitely been thinking about, since we started (Big Ten) play really,” Kopp said at media availability Thursday. “It’s just gonna be super exciting to go back there and see old friends. I don’t know what to expect emotion-wise.”
A pair of those old friends, Northwestern senior forward Pete Nance and senior guard Ryan Greer, were roommates with Kopp, and he said he talks to his former teammates almost daily.
Nance is in the midst of a breakout season, leading Northwestern with 15.6 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game — the highest marks of his collegiate career.
“We talk about basketball and the (Big Ten),” Kopp said about his relationships with Nance and Greer. “I watch their games and they watch mine. It’ll be cool to go back and see them, go against those guys, and get a win. I just wanna win, that’s all I care about.”
The Hoosiers’ offense has struggled to create open looks for Kopp recently, and he has been limited to just 6.2 points per game this season. Kopp hasn’t scored in double figures since his 28-point outburst against Syracuse University on Nov. 30, but a homecoming could be just the spark Kopp needs toward the end of the season.
“(Those were) probably some of the most transformative years of my life as a young man and basketball player,” Kopp said. “Just to be back there as a Hoosier is weird.”
One-half mentality hurting Hoosiers against high-scoring offenses
The Hoosiers remain first in the Big Ten with a scoring defense that allows just 63.5 points per game and 37.7% shooting from their opponents, but they have still been outmatched in 3-point shooting and interior play in losses to Illinois and Michigan.
Kopp said the Big Ten is full of players who can post large numbers on any given night, noting that the Hoosiers’ focus is on limiting those players as best they can.
“We know our bread and butter is our defense and take a lot of pride in guarding,” Kopp said. “A lot of the guys on the team take their matchup personal.”
Indiana’s lapses of concentration were highlighted in its second-half collapse to Illinois, and it can’t afford another 20-minute performance in a challenging road environment against a talented Northwestern offense.
Despite Northwestern’s inconsistencies this season, its offense ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 75.9 points per game and is sixth in the conference with a 35.7% mark from beyond the arc.
“It’s about having that mentality of playing both halves and not really playing the score, just coming out and competing,” sophomore guard Trey Galloway said Monday. “It’s hard to do in the Big Ten, every team is in the game competing usually.”