Wisconsin 57, Indiana 50: Hoosiers can't hold on.

IU turned in what I generally would consider its best effort in several weeks, but allowed the Badgers some key offensive rebounds down the stretch and fell 57-50, for IU's ninth straight loss to Wisconsin and eleventh straight loss in Madison. Is there anything more frustrating as a sports fan then to see your team play below its potential and drop a couple of games that it should win, and then play much better against a tougher opponent, yet not well enough to win? That's how I feel about last night's game. If IU had shown the same defensive commitment against Minnesota or Nebraska, IU would have won both of those games comfortably. I hope the overall performance is a sign of things to come, but it's still frustrating.

The overall numbers don't look all that pretty. IU allowed Wisconsin to score 1.05 points per possessions, compared to .93 for IU, but that is skewed a bit by the Badgers' 6-0 run to finish the game in the final two minutes. The frustrating part about those final two minutes is that Wisconsin did not score a single field goal. Instead, the Badgers went 6-6 from the line and had three offensive rebounds and two defensive rebounds. IU had no rebounds at either end of the court during that time. Much has been said about how late Cody Zeller came back into the game (with 1:03 remaining, with IU trailing by 3 after leaving with his fourth foul at 5:21, with IU trailing by 1). I tend to agree, and I might have been inclined to simply let him play with four. IU trailed by one when Zeller left, and I think in that situation, with the risk of the game getting out of hand, perhaps it makes sense to simply let your best unit play. On the other hand, it simply wasn't Cody's night. His 2-7 shooting performance was his worst of the season, and the Badgers' Jared Berggren blocked three of his shots. Zeller sat much of the game because of foul trouble, and at least three of the calls were questionable at best (including and absolute textbook charge taken in the first half). Still, however, I don't think Cody quite knew how to handle the physical defense of Wisconsin. My purely amateur opinion is that he needs to be more aggressive in husing his body to create space. On the other hand, given the way the game was called, he may have been understantably reluctant to create contact.

Other notes:

  • Verdell Jones III scored 12 points in the first half but none in the second.
  • Christian Watford scored 12 points on 4-6 shooting, but was uncharacteristically weak (2-6) from the line.
  • IU had only 10 turnovers, but in a 54 possession game that comes out to 18.6 percent, which is too high against a team that doesn't make a habit of forcing turnovers.
  • Will Sheehey finally got the increased playing time we have been demanding, and...didn't make much of it: 1-6 from the field and 3 boards in 25 minutes.
  • I don't like to complain about officiating, and I know that IU has benefited from a strong homecourt advantage over the years, but it's pretty astounding that Wisconsin was whistled for only 10 fouls in a game in which IU took 38 of its 46 attempts from inside the arc.
Well, as I said, I think IU's defensive effort last night looked more like what we saw in November and December than what we have seen for most of January. That's a very good thing, if IU can keep it up. If I had known beforehand that Jordan Taylor would score only 10 points and would go 0-5 from deep, I would have thought IU had an excellent chance to win, and IU did have an excellent chance to win. Unfortunately, the Badgers did what they needed to do in the final two minutes and IU didn't.

The Hoosiers have reached the midpoint of the Big Ten season with a 4-5 conference record. Given how the season started, it's a mild disappointment. Before the season, however, any of us would have taken it. According to Pomeroy, last night was the last game that IU has a less than even chance of winning. That's not to say that Pom predicts IU will win out--he says 10-8--but it means that his formula says IU should win each remaining game when viewed standing alone. Here is the quick rundown, from most likely win to least likely:

North Carolina Central: 98
Iowa: 92
Northwestern: 88
Illinois: 82
Purdue: 81
@ Iowa: 79
@ Minnesota: 62
@ Purdue: 58
@ Michigan: 56
Michigan State: 52

I don't trust these percentages at all, but I do think it is a pretty fair ordering of IU's remaining games from most winnable to least winnable (my main quibble is that I would reverse the order of the last three: I feel better about IU's chances at home against MSU than at Purdue or Michigan, and better about IU's chances at Crisler than at Mackey. That means, of course, that I believe that after Sunday's home game against Iowa, IU will play its toughest remaining games in the same week: @ Michigan on Wednesday and at Purdue on Saturday. Assuming that IU beats Iowa on Sunday (and I'm not overlooking the Hawkeyes, but if IU loses that game, then none of this matters and Fred Glass should begin planning to host an NIT game), that would put IU at 5-5 in the conference going into the two game road trip. I feel about those games much as I felt about IU's brutal opening stretch against MSU and OSU. An 0-2 record in those games wouldn't be a disaster, but it would give the team no margin for error. I am of the opinion that IU needs 5 more wins (which would give IU a 21-10/8-10 record) to feel reasonably safe on selection Sunday. IU can get those wins without winning on the road again. Still, I don't relish the thought of the team entering that two game homestand against Illinois and Northwestern, two not-great-but-pesky teams, with a 5-7 Big Ten record and desperate for a win. Again, losing to Michigan and Purdue isn't cause for panic, but stealing one of those games would be a huge relief.

Now, however, IU has a fairly quick turnaround to play Iowa. The Hawkeyes have had an unusual Big Ten season: they are 2-2 on the road in the Big Ten, winning at Wisconsin and Minnesota and playing pretty well in a loss at Purdue, but are only 1-3 at home, including a loss last night to Nebraska. As I said, it's a must-win for IU.

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