By The Numbers:
January 14, 2014 - Assembly Hall - Bloomington, IN
7:00 PM ET - ESPN
The Wisconsin Badgers are off to the best start in school history, and are currently the highest ranked team in the Big Ten in the most recent AP Poll. Doubters will cite Wisconsin's relatively easy schedule thus far, but Iowa's victory on the road against Ohio State have forced the computers to give credence to Wisconsin's opponents. According to the RPI, the Badgers have the 5th-toughest strength of schedule. Yes, Florida was without some of their stars. And yes, without Fran McCaffery's freakout, Wisconsin probably would have lost to Iowa as well. But the number geeks love the Badgers, and they've played like a top-3 team each night.
There's no doubt that Indiana has played some tough opponents. The problem is that they've lost almost all of their major tests so far. They fell in a close one to Connecticut in Madison Square Garden, and were dominated by Syracuse at the Carrier Dome and Michigan State in Bloomington. But the Hoosiers enter this game with some momentum off their comeback victory at Penn State, where seldom-used wing Austin Etherington buried a 3 with less than 1:30 left to seal the win. In general, a team with the pedigree and talent of Indiana shouldn't almost lose to Penn State, but expectations about this Hoosier team are coming back down to earth with each game. They have plenty of talent and could sneak into the tournament, but look like a mid-tier Big Ten team.
Projected Starting Lineups:
|Traevon Jackson||G||Yogi Ferrell|
|Ben Brust||G||Evan Gordon|
|Josh Gasser||G/F||Will Sheehey|
|Sam Dekker||F||Troy Williams|
|Frank Kaminsky||C||Noah Vonleh|
Players to Watch:
Ben Brust - The senior guard is coming off his two best games so far this year, after leading the Badgers' comeback against Iowa with 19 points and helping to bury Illinois with 18 points. He's shooting a career-high 44% from three, and has been automatic from the foul line, shooting 94%. His sharp shooting will play a major role in this matchup against Indiana, but he'll need to keep up his solid rebounding to ensure a Badger victory. The Hoosiers are 4th in the country in rebounds, and Wisconsin is 202nd. Throughout his career, Brust has rebounded exceptionally well for his size. He only stands a minute 6'1", but is third on the team in rebounding with 5.1 a game. There was a point last season where Brust was third in the Big Ten in rebounding, only behind Derrick Nix and Cody Zeller. The Hoosiers can and will throw out some larger lineups, but if Brust can keep knocking down shots, and take pressure off Dekker and Kaminsky by crashing the boards, they should be just fine.
Nigel Hayes - Hayes has made the dreams of Badger fans come true, and much, much, more. No one knew how much to expect from the burly freshman, but he's been the anchor of Wisconsin's impressive bench. He played 20 minutes in the victory over Illinois, and forced all of the Illini big men into awkward shots. As an added bonus, his mid-range game looks much improved. His ability to alter shots and knock down jumpers will be crucial for a Wisconsin victory. As I stated above, Indiana excels in rebounding. Their bench is full of athletic forwards who can crash the boards and make life tough on Wisconsin's guards. Therefore, Bo Ryan will definitely call upon Hayes for more big minutes this game. If Hayes' jumper starts to work, that could have ripple effects on Wisconsin's strategy. If he knocks down shots from 12-15 feet, that will pull Hoosier big men away from the basket, and will help Wisconsin snag some offensive boards and potentially a victory.
Yogi Ferrell - This year's Yogi Ferrell is a drastically different player than last year. Offensively, Ferrell has exploded. He's shooting 44% from three, which is crazy considering he shot an abysmal 30% last year. His points per game has skyrocketed from 7.6 to 17.5, and he's done a great job keeping this young Hoosier squad alive in most games. Last season, Ferrell rarely made huge impacts on Indiana's success. He was simply an auxiliary to Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Christian Watford. This was evident in last year's loss to Wisconsin. Ferrell played 34 minutes in that game, but only had 9 points on 2-8 shooting. Traevon Jackson better understand that games like that are in the past for Ferrell. He's got the potential to put up big numbers in a hurry, so the success of Yogi against Wisconsin's tough perimeter defense will be huge.
Noah Vonleh - There's a good reason why this freshman is a projected lottery-pick in next year's draft. His size and rebounding skills have scouts salivating. His 9.3 rebounds per game lead the Big Ten, and he's effectively used his height with both offensive and defensive rebounding. He faces an interesting challenge against Frank Kaminsky, as Kaminsky has used his outside shooting to neutralize bigger and tougher opponents. But Kaminsky hasn't faced someone as athletic and as dominant as Vonleh. If Vonleh can draw fouls (he's 16th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes) and keep Kaminsky inside, the Hoosiers should maintain their advantage down low.
Wisconsin Perspective by Kevin Dlugos: Wisconsin has a 12-game winning streak against the Hoosiers, but it's interesting to look at the last time Indiana bested the Badgers: on a chilly January night in 2007, the #2 Wisconsin Badgers came into Bloomington, and fell to D.J. White's Hoosiers. This time, the Badgers come to Bloomington as the #3 team in the country. Is it time for history to repeat itself? I'm not so sure. While Ferrell and Vonleh are going to produce with consistency, the rest of the team is a question mark. With Wisconsin, very little remains a question offensively. Occasionally Jackson can get out of control, but the Badgers can score points with remarkable consistency. And as usual, they defend exceptionally well. Their small lineups may hurt them, but it's going to take a herculean failure for the Badgers to drop this game.
Indiana Perspective by Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit): The Hoosiers may not be celebrating too much after their win over Penn State last weekend, but there's no doubting the significance of that victory. A win over Wisconsin would mean a heck of a lot more. Clearly, Indiana is the underdog in this game. Not only is Wisconsin undefeated and ranked #3 in the nation, but they also have a 12 game winning streak over the Hoosiers. When you're facing that kind of challenge, it definitely puts a damper on things. However, there are some reasons to be positive. Indiana is still a young team and is steadily improving. If they can just slow the turnovers down or get one of the young guys to step up (outside of Vonleh), they should be right in this thing. Plus, do not underestimate Assembly Hall for one of these games. That place is going to be loud. It may be a long shot, but maybe Indiana can provide the perfect trap game on Tuesday night to get the win they so desperately need.
The Hoosiers are a talented team with a big home-court advantage, but when they've faced top-tier competition, they've faltered. Their lack of consistent scoring, especially from the outside, won't fly against Wisconsin. The Badgers have the ability to put on an offensive clinic if their threes start to fall (which they usually do). On paper, the Hoosiers look tough down low, but Wisconsin has faced off against solid frontcourts before, like Iowa, and didn't let them control the pace of the game. Plus, Bo Ryan simply owns Tom Crean. That's just a fact. Wisconsin by 11.