The renaissance of Wisconsin's basketball program in the last decade under the direction of Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan is one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Big Ten history, perhaps second only to Gary Barnett's accomplishments with the Northwestern football program. The Badgers give me hope for IU football. Wisconsin won the fourth-ever NCAA Tournament in 1942 and qualified again in 1947, but did not return to the NCAA field again until 1994. Since that return, the Badgers have become NCAA fixtures. From 1994 to present, the Badgers have played in the NCAA Tournament 11 times in 14 years, including the last nine years. IU's record against the Badgers has coincided with UW's success. Wisconsin beat IU on January 5, 1980 in Madison. IU then won the next 31 in a row, home and away, before losing at Madison on January 4, 1997, 17 years later. Since then, the Badgers and Hoosiers have been nearly even (IU leads 9-8 from 1997 to present). IU won 69-59 at the Kohl Center on January 25, 1998, just a week after the Badgers played their first game in the facility. Since then, IU has lost six in a row in Madison. The Hoosiers have been competitive in three of the games there (most infamously the 62-60 loss in 2005 officiated by Northern Iowa athletic director Rick Hartzell), but IU's only longer road drought in the conference is at MSU.
Current record: 16-3
Big Ten record: 6-1
Current RPI: 23
Current Sagarin: 12
2006-07 record: 30-6 (lost to UNLV in second round of NCAA Tournament)
2006-07 RPI: 4
2006-07 Sagarin: 8
Series: IU leads 94-55
Last IU win: 1/31/07 (71-66 in Bloomington)
Last Wisconsin win: 2/8/06 (72-54 in Madison)
Last IU win in Madison: 1/25/98 (69-59)
TV: 9 pm, ESPN
But, about this year. Wisconsin's 2006-07 probably was its finest since the 1942 NCAA champions, but the Badgers squandered a great regular season performance by losing to UNLV in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers lost Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor and were expected to return to Earth this year, but instead, the Badgers have spent most of the season hanging near the top 10 and near the top of the Big Ten (first place until they lost at Purdue last weekend).
So, how are the Badgers doing it? Defense is the Badgers true area of excellence (#3 nationally at .85 points per possession), although the Badgers' offensive numbers are good as well. Defensively, the Badgers are #12 in effective field goal percentage, #27 in rebounding, #9 in free throw rate (their opponents don't get to the line), and #12 in 2 point field goal percentage(gulp--Better than UConn). The Badgers aren't overwhelmingly good at forcing turnovers or blocking shots, but don't rank below #125 nationally in any defensive category. While not as physically imposing as Connecticut, this is a very good defensive team.
On the offensive side, the Badgers are less overwhelming but still good. They shoot well, rebound well, and shoot over 50 percent from two point range. The Badgers are merely mediocre at protecting the ball and at getting to the line. Perhaps the only positive from IU's stat line against Connecticut was the low rate of turnovers, and Wisconsin may present a good opportunity to make that a trend. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to discuss the individuals, but Marcus Landry and Brian Butch should present a challenge to DJ and company inside, and let's hope the players and staff learned something on Saturday. None of the conference's top five have lost a conference game at home. A win tonight would be the Hoosiers' best road win in years and would put IU in excellent position for the Big Ten title.