GAME INFO / HOW TO WATCH:
When? Tuesday, January 5th, 7:00 PM, ESPN
Vegas? INDIANA -8.5
Pomeroy? INDIANA by 8, 78% chance of Indiana victory
The Wisconsin Badgers have been a thorn in Indiana's side for the majority of Bo Ryan's tenure. The only time the Hoosiers have been able to pull off a victory over Wisconsin in Tom Crean's was in the least likely of circumstances. Not the 2013 B1G title team (who lost to the Badgers twice), not the team who beat Kentucky (also lost to the Badgers twice), but the 2013-14 squad, known for its dysfunction and overall not-good-at-basketball-ness, who managed to knock off Wisconsin in Assembly Hall, a Badgers team that would eventually play in the first of two straight Final Fours later that year.
A lot of Wisconsin's apparent hex on the Hoosiers has a lot to do with them simply being a consistently good team. Bo Ryan's program has long been lauded for their ability to always hang around the conference title race, and they're frequently a darling for analytical models and eye testers alike. Few programs wouldn't swap their results since the start of this latest millennium with the Badgers, Indiana certainly would.
But things are looking different in Madison. The Badgers are off to their worst start in years, suffering in the vacuum left behind from a loaded core that delivered two straight Final Fours and weathering the resignation of Bo Ryan at midseason, Wisconsin clocks in 36 spots beneath the Hoosiers on KenPom and already has three sub-100 losses on their résumé. If you looked at their profile without the name attached to it, you would conclude that this is the kind of team that Indiana would be expected to dispatch of easily, particularly in Assembly Hall. After all, similarly-ranked Creighton made the trip to Assembly Hall this year, and were beaten down by 21 points.
But, on the other hand, this is Wisconsin. There are dark forces at work here. Indiana has a long way to go after a non-conference schedule that was a massive comeback against Notre Dame away from being an abject failure, both in terms of their résumé and with their eye test. On Tuesday night, they can't do much to improve the former, but they could really generate some good will in terms of the latter. If they want to prove that this year has a chance to be different, that there is tangible growth and improvement happening with this roster, you have to beat the team you haven't been able to figure out when they're as down as Wisconsin is right now.
HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?
|INDIANA (#10 Adj. Offense)
|WISCONSIN (#62 Adj. Defense)
|INDIANA (#113 Adj. Defense)
|WISCONSIN (#73 Adj. Offense)
While the overall product isn't what it has been recently, there are a few remaining hallmarks of the successful squads that preceded it. Wisconsin remains a strong rebounding team on both ends of the floor and their tempo remains similar to someone going mudding in a child's tricycle. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are the only returnees to log significant minutes for the Badgers last season and both are struggling with the transition to top options, finding life much easier back when Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and company demanded the opponent's attention.
Nigel Hayes has practically doubled his assist rate, which is significant for a team short on initiators, but has seen the rest of his offensive statistics drop across the board. His eFG% has dropped over 13 points, including a 10% drop in his 3PT%. Koenig's numbers are down as well, but not nearly to the same extent. Zak Showalter steps into a starting role after playing only 16.5% of the team's minutes last season and is the only Badger with a national ranking in Offensive Rating, fueled primarily by being selective and effective from deep (19-49, 38.8%). Only Hayes is shooting more 2PT shots than 6'8" junior Vitto Brown, but he's making only 41.8% of them. Brown's strength is his rebounding, which along with freshman big Ethan Happ, gives the Badgers two guys who are nationally ranked in both offensive and defensive rebounding.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH FOR:
- Wisconsin's TO% (98th) vs. Indiana's dTO% (57th): Indiana is very bad at taking care of the ball, but have been able to offset it by creating turnovers of their own on defense. Wisconsin, as usual, is good at taking care of the ball, but not nearly as good as they've been recently. The Hoosiers must exploit this slight advantage given the state of their defense currently, and especially given the premium on every possession that tends to show up in games against the Badgers, due, as always, to ...
- Wisconsin's frustratingly slow offense (318th Tempo) vs. Indiana's comparative mania (86th Tempo): Wisconsin excels at pulling teams down into their speed of basketball. They've played one non-OT game that reached at least 70 possessions, an 82-possession affair with Green Bay who is the 2nd fastest team in the nation. Indiana, comparatively, has had ten such games this season. The key to speeding Wisconsin (or anyone) up is to build early leads. If Indiana can start hot from the field and string a few defensive stops together at the beginning that will go a long way towards forcing Wisconsin to play Indiana's game, and not the other way around. Wisconsin is not a good shooting team (241st eFG%), they can go cold for stretches without the defense doing much of anything. Theoretically.
- Indiana's ability to set nets on fire (4th 3PT%) vs. Wisconsin's sudden inability to defend the perimeter (289th d3PT%): Speaking of jumping out to early leads: this isn't the Wisconsin defense of the last decade and a half. Indiana should get plenty of great looks in the arena their most comfortable playing in, it should be bombs-away early and often from beyond the arc. The ingredients are there for a hot start on offense for the Hoosiers, and they can hopefully channel some of the confidence gained from made shots into their defense on the other end. You know, theoretically.
- James Blackmon Jr. vs. his mysterious knee injury (spooky): There has been much talk of Jimmy Buckets' knee without a great deal being said. He's missed the first two conference games, and while Indiana has found a different kind of success without him (which could be good for them long-term), the sheer gobs of points he dumps in to each and every game are very difficult to replace, and I think most would feel a lot better about the team's chances with one of the nation's most talented shooters on the floor.
- Thomas Bryant (freshman stud) vs. Ethan Happ (freshman stud): Happ wasn't a McDonald's All-American, but if you don't think he's gonna be at Wisconsin for the next four years and kicking Indiana's ass the majority of the time than you simply aren't paying attention to the dynamics at work in this rivalry. Pay no mind to websites that will say Happ was born in Illinois, that's just a front; Bo Ryan grows these kids on a farm completely off the grid in northern Wisconsin. Happ is a fierce rebounder, but limited offensively as he learns the game / how to transition from harvested crop to human. Bryant, a work-in-progress on defense and rebounding, has shown far more polish offensively, and it should be a great battle that could go a long way in determining the outcome.
Indiana's schedule sets up nicely for a lot of padding early on. They really have no excuse to not be 7-0 prior to their return game against Wisconsin in Madison. But it's completely dependent on them dispatching of teams in KenPom's 50-60 range that come into Assembly Hall, which is the kind of thing teams that win conference titles and go deep into tournaments do. There are plenty of people who are, rightfully, skeptical about Indiana's chances on Tuesday night. We've spent a lot of time over the past couple of seasons talking about the conference games Indiana should win and those discussions, too often, become about conference games Indiana should have won.
Let's change that. Beat Wisconsin when you're supposed to beat them, for the first time in a long time.