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Game Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

This probably doesn't end well.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports


Who? Wisconsin Badgers (19-2, #5 KenPom)  v. Indiana Hoosiers (16-6 #50 KenPom)

When? 7:00 PM, ESPN

Vegas? WISCONSIN -15

Pomeroy? WISCONSIN by 15, 9% chance of Indiana victory


The Nightmare Scenario

We like to be positive over here at TCQ, but as far as positives for this game, against this team, in that arena well ... any positives I glean from this analysis will be a stretch, to put it bluntly. There are a lot of games Indiana will play against superior teams that I can at least hold on to the idea that "ah gee well our offense is better and scoring more points leads to victories so ..." but Wisconsin happens to be one of only FIVE OTHER TEAMS in this country that can actually score the ball more efficiently than the Hoosiers. In fact, there isn't another team playing right now that is better offensively than the Badgers.

Add in the facts that they are huge (6th in effective height), play the opposite style of Indiana (340th in adjusted tempo), and Bo Ryan having some sort of powerful hex over Tom Crean that could only be broken when it made the least amount of sense for it to occur, and you can see why I'm struggling for silver linings, especially considering this game is in Madison, a place Indiana has not rode out of victorious since the invention of the wheel probably.

As has been the case for two straight years, your evaluation of Wisconsin begins with Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky. The seven-foot senior has shredded far better defenses than he'll see on Tuesday, hitting 57.5% of his twos, 41.1% of his threes, and 76.8% of his free throws. He is 11th in the nation in defensive rebounding and only turns it over on 11.0% of his possessions. Speaking of possessions: he's gobbling up 27.8% of them along with 28.4% of available shots and, given his percentages, it's easy to see why. To do all he does with scoring and rebounding while also boasting a 16.7% assist rate takes him from "oh how this guy is unbelievable" to questioning "has God gone too far?"

His back-to-the-basket game is a little further behind his other talents, but that's not something Indiana has shown the ability to exploit. This part of his game will likely look a lot better on Tuesday night if Indiana continually allows him to catch the ball too deep like they did with AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas against Purdue.

But on the occasional possession in which they do repel him, he is still only one of FOUR WISCONSIN BADGERS that possess offensive ratings in the TOP FIFTY. Every Wisconsin starter except for Sam Dekker can say that, who is really dragging the rest of the offense down with his pathetic 121.4 ORtg, good for a measly EIGHTY-SEVENTH IN THE COUNTRY. Each Wisconsin starter hits at least 32.9% of his 3PT attempts and turn the ball over AT MOST 11.9% of the time.

Nigel Hayes, who I could already tell would turn into a nightmare for Big Ten teams during his freshman campaign, has realized that potential as a sophomore. His 6-8 frame gives him the foundation to be a fierce rebounder and he has morphed into a very good all-around player for Bo Ryan in his second season. There's no obvious hole in his game unless you want to nitpick his lack of blocks. Which I'm not going to do.

Bronson Koenig has stepped in nicely for the injured Traevon Jackson because, of course. Frank Kaminsky could vanish into thin air today and Bo Ryan would just throw out some other tall, effective basketball player that he grew in an underground corn field somewhere beyond the reach of federal authorities. It could be more perception than reality, but there seems to be no team on the planet that has to worry about injuries less than Wisconsin. The system / institution is so deeply entrenched that Bo Ryan need not worry if a player's foot disintegrates, for he will fetch another just like him from his basketball farm.

I actually don't mind the defensive matchups of Yogi Ferrell on Koenig and (gasp) James Blackmon Jr. on Josh Gasser. JBJ has shown a lot of inconsistency on defense but with Gasser pretty much out there to knock down open threes, I'm hoping Blackmon can follow him around and use his length to contest some of those looks. After that, however, the matchups get terrifying, as some combination of 6-4 Robert Johnson, 6-7 Troy Williams, and 6-6 Collin Hartman have to figure out what to do about 6-8 Nigel Hayes, 6-9 Sam Dekker and 7-0 Frank Kaminsky.

While I've advocated for Tom Crean to lean on the zone more, this may be the worst possible team to do that against given their proficiency from the perimeter. That said, after this game, I wouldn't mind them zoning more if for no other reason than the man-to-man has proven so inefficient that there is nothing to lose.


Four Factors

eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Offense) 55.4% (14th) 17.0% (44th) 35.1% (58th) 36.2% (205th)
WISCONSIN (Defense) 46.0% (77th) 18.0% (256th) 22.8% (2nd) 24.6% (5th)

eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Defense) 49.5% (209th) 16.1% (331st) 32.2% (225th) 27.6% (19th)
WISCONSIN (Offense) 55.1% (16th) 12.7% (1st) 31.8% (144th) 38.2% (150th)

The first thing that may jump out is that Wisconsin isn't as sharp defensively as you typically expect. They're 74th overall in adjusted defensive efficiency and their inability to turn their opponents over really "hurts" them. I put that in quotes because the 74th overall defense paired with the #1 overall offense is more than good enough to run roughshod over most opponents. Wisconsin does an excellent job of limiting opponent offenses by preventing them from rebounding their own misses and rarely sending teams to the free throw line. Given that your standard Wisconsin game rarely exceeds 60 possessions, being limited to one shot and zero free throws on a possession reduces your margin of error on a given possession to practically nothing. Add in the fact that Indiana will struggle to get stops on the other end and this is almost getting too depressing to think about.

But that's what takes Indiana (and others) out of their game when they play Wisconsin. You don't want to speed the game up on offense out of fear of a missed shot or turnover and then have to settle in for another 40 seconds of defense empty-handed. So, instead, teams are almost forced to take the bait and slow themselves down, working the clock for the best available shot despite that not being anything close to their real offensive identity. It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation and that's what makes Wisconsin so brutal to match up with.

It will be interesting to see how the rebounding shakes out, as Indiana has proven to be bizarrely adept at getting offensive rebounds despite their size and Wisconsin, as we mentioned, is better than everyone but Baylor at preventing those boards. It should also be noted that the Badgers are truly awful at defending the perimeter (239th) and Indiana's perimeter prowess (14th) could help keep them in the game.

Granted: Indiana's shooting has always and will always give them a puncher's chance this year. They have the ability to hit 12-15 three pointers on a given night given their bevy of talented long-distances shooters and if that gets paired with a cold shooting night from the Badgers (less likely) then the result is up for grabs. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is one of those teams that could still best Indiana even in a shootout. The numbers at least suggest that Indiana will get their fair share of great looks from the perimeter, but they have to knock them down early and often to give them a chance at the end.

Simply put: it will take a practically perfect game. On the road. Against Bo Ryan. Yee-haw.

Three Things to Watch For:

  • Who starts? Tom Crean shook things up a bit against Rutgers by sending Troy Williams and Robert Johnson to the bench for Stanford Robinson and Nick Zeisloft, essentially citing defensive concerns when he made the switch. I would suspect this move was made more to "send a message" to the Troy and RoJo than anything. It's worth trying, as Troy Williams has far too much length and athleticism to not be a tenacious defender. Troy has come a very long way since his freshman campaign, but most of his progress has been on the offensive end, it'd be great to see his defense start catching up.
  • Will this game feature another iteration of Rob Wilson? Y'all may not remember when a Wisconsin benchwarmer by the name of Rob Wilson suddenly found himself on the floor against Indiana in the 2012 Big Ten Tournament. Wilson, owning a 2.4 points per game for his career, exploded for 30 points, including seven three-pointers en route to a Wisconsin victory. I just have this feeling something dumb like that is going to happen again. Indiana comes out with some great defensive gameplan for the usual suspects and Bo sends in someone off the bench to break their spirits. I'm so pessimistic about this game that my brain has turned to Rob Wilson ... it's getting dark.
  • How do the Hoosiers even attempt to guard Frank Kaminsky? I touched on this earlier by essentially admitting that it's impossible, but I will be interested to see how Indiana tries to limit Kaminsky. Yogi's ball-denying skills won't be of any use given the absurd size difference and the only player close to Kaminsky, physically, is still out with a knee injury. I have no doubt Collin Hartman will get his chances and we know why the zone probably doesn't work out, so I would expect Crean to get a little imaginative when it comes to defending the likely National Player of the Year, and creativity is always fun to observe, right?