By the Numbers:
February 24, 2014 - Kohl Center, Madison, WI
9:00 ET - ESPN
Wisconsin has passed their toughest tests of the year with flying colors in the past few weeks. They've won five in a row, with the two most recent victories being on the road against both Michigan and Iowa. While the Iowa victory became a little too close for comfort down the stretch, Frank Kaminsky made some huge plays both offensively and defensively to seal the win. He's been playing out of his mind recently, and is a major reason why the Badgers have rebounded from their January flubs. According to ESPN's bracketology, they are a projected #2 seed for the NCAA Tournament. While that sounded surprising to me, it makes a lot of sense considering how well they've been playing.
On the other hand, Indiana has had a dumpster fire of a basketball season. We've written a lot on this site about Indiana's struggles this season, and while eking out a 5-point victory on the road against Northwestern is a nice win, that by no means salvages the Hoosiers' disastrous year. Right now, they're looking at a low seeding in the NIT, which isn't what Indiana fans had in mind before this year. They knew the team would be young, but their struggles have been appalling.
Projected Starting Lineups:
|Traevon Jackson||G||Yogi Ferrell|
|Ben Brust||G||Austin Etherington|
|Josh Gasser||G/F||Will Sheehey|
|Sam Dekker||F||Troy Williams|
|Frank Kaminsky||C||Noah Vonleh|
Wisconsin Players to Watch:
Frank Kaminsky: Frank the Tank is scalding hot. In his last 3 games, he's averaging 21 points and 8 rebounds, and has become a dangerous option late in the game. The team now feels confidence in letting Kaminsky take more and more shots, since they've been going in at such a wonderful rate. It'll be interesting to see how he fares against Vonleh in this game. In Wisconsin's earlier loss to the Hoosiers, Kaminsky scored 11 points on 5-7 shooting, but only made a single jumper that game. Now that his jumper is hot, it'll be fun to see him square off against a quick and competent defender in Vonleh.
Bronson Koenig: Hey, where did that come from? How about Bronsolino coming out strong against Iowa with some hot shooting? The highly-touted freshman has been fairly incognito throughout most of the Big Ten schedule, and has put up a 4 trillion twice in conference play. But his confidence from behind the arc early against Iowa allowed him to play 23 minutes that game, which took some of the pressure off the oftentimes inconsistent Traevon Jackson. Yogi Ferrell is Indiana's best player, and will give Jackson fits on both ends of the floor. If Bo Ryan can turn to Koenig to right the offensive ship if things go awry, Wisconsin should have no problem with the Hoosiers.
Indiana Players to Watch:
Yogi Ferrell: He's one of the few players on Indiana that's consistently worth watching in the first place. But one of the highlights of his breakout season took place against Wisconsin in January. After a putrid first half, Tom Crean benched his star point guard, sending a message that Ferrell's performance would not fly. He took a short respite, then proceeded to torch the interior defense of Wisconsin throughout the entire second half. He's had plenty of scoring outbursts throughout this season, and for Indiana to be competitive in Madison, he'll need one more. He's been involved in 82% of the team's possessions this year, and that's only increased as the debacle in Bloomington has grown. Look for him to take tons of shots out of pure necessity. If they go in, who knows - maybe IU has a chance.
Noah Vonleh: Vonleh scoffs at anyone who feels that Frank Kaminsky can handle him on the boards. This season, he's pulled down 11.7% of offensive rebounds and an absurd 28.2% of defensive rebounds. That's clearly impressive, but he faces another equally burly freshman in Nigel Hayes to wrestle with down low. While Vonleh has a much higher ceiling as a player, Hayes has shown some impressive polish and maturity offensively. But at the end of the day, Vonleh will dominate the boards against the Badgers. Sadly, that probably won't translate into a victory.
The light at the end of the tunnel is near for the Badgers. After Indiana, they face Penn State, Purdue, and Nebraska. All will be tough, but are certainly manageable. Part of me fears a similar performance to the earlier loss to Indiana. Think back to that loss - Wisconsin headed into that matchup with sky-high confidence and a huge winning streak. Then, the stars aligned and all of Indiana's talent turned into solid production for one, magical night. Fearing a similar performance may be a bit irrational, but isn't too far off base. This Wisconsin team has taken nights off in the past, especially against high-volume scorers. But right now, the Badgers look lethal. Kaminsky and Sam Dekker have played with a new-found vigor and Traevon Jackson has demonstrated maturity and composure with the offense. This matchup shouldn't be a problem for Wisconsin. Now if Ben Brust can make his threes again...
For Indiana to win, a lot has to go right. First, Yogi Ferrell needs to score an absurd amount of points. Something in the 25-30 point range should be sufficient. Second, it would be nice if someone made anything from behind the arc. They shoot 34.1% from 3 on the year, and a similar shooting performance won't be enough to top the Badgers. Third, someone named Noah Vonleh will need to step up in the front court. The combination of Dekker, Kaminsky, and Hayes is brutal. It would be prudent for Jeremy Hollowell or Troy Williams to help Vonleh in containing those three on defense. Sadly, Indiana has hit Wisconsin at the wrong time. The Badgers have been a model of consistency throughout February, and Indiana has been the exact opposite. It's a bummer this won't be as fun as it appeared in November.
Wisconsin 74, Indiana 61