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Northwestern-Indiana Preview

AP - Sports

Indiana is on the verge of matching its win total in Big Ten play from the past three seasons combined as it continues its resurgence under coach Tom Crean.

The 18th-ranked Hoosiers can accomplish the feat Wednesday night by avoiding a fourth consecutive loss to visiting Northwestern, which is in desperate need of a resume-building victory to bolster faint hopes of its first-ever NCAA tournament bid.

Indiana (19-6, 7-6) went 8-46 in conference play the past three seasons, but Crean's squad has excelled at times in one of the country's deepest leagues in 2011-12.

The Hoosiers are coming off a physical 84-71 win over Illinois on Thursday with the help of Cody Zeller's game-high 22 points. He hit 12 of 14 free throws for Indiana, which has won two straight after dropping five of seven.

"I think if you're going to get physical with (Zeller), he's going to respond," Crean said. "The only soft thing about Cody is that he's soft-spoken on the court sometimes, but other than that he's a tough, tough person."

With victories over then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10 and then-No. 2 Ohio State on Dec. 31, Indiana is a lock to be a part of the NCAA tournament field - and Crean says Big Ten play is the best preparation.

"If there is a league that prepares you any better for what you can see in the NCAA tournament other than the Big Ten, I haven't seen it," Crean said. "You're going to be in battles, you have to win games different ways, you're going to go against excellent coaches with proven systems and this week for us is no different with Northwestern and Iowa (on Sunday)."

The Wildcats (15-9, 5-7) have won six of the last seven meetings and are hoping their rigorous conference schedule will help their case on selection Sunday. The Big Ten's five ranked teams are tied with the Big East for most in the country.

Northwestern, the only BCS conference team never to qualify for the NCAA tournament, was riding a three-game winning streak before falling 87-77 at Purdue on Sunday.

Coach Bill Carmody's team is 1-4 against ranked foes, with the only victory coming versus then-No. 6 Michigan State on Jan. 14. He knows the Wildcats have to build their resume in order to earn an unlikely tournament bid, starting with the Indiana game.

"They've been up most of the year," Carmody said of the Hoosiers. "We're going to have our work cut out for us."

John Shurna scored 30 points and Reggie Hearn added 16 on Sunday for Northwestern, which got only two points and zero field goals from its bench.

Carmody lauded the play of Hearn, who is averaging 17.3 points over his last three games.

"He's been so consistent the whole year," Carmody said. "He's been a good all-around player for us and certainly has exceeded my expectations of him."

Shurna scored 19 points in Northwestern's 70-64 win Feb. 19 in the most recent meeting with Indiana, which likely will hope for another solid performance from Christian Watford.

The junior forward had 18 points against Illinois after shooting 3 for 14 and scoring 12 in his previous two games combined.

Indiana last beat Northwestern 88-80 in overtime March 6, 2010, despite 31 points from Shurna, as Jordan Hulls scored 24 and hit eight 3-pointers.