Wisconsin and Indiana meet tonight in the first marquee Big Ten game of the season. Certainly there have been plenty of good conference games as Minnesota has played two teams to overtime, winning one. But Wisconsin and Indiana could have long term ramifications.
Indiana suffered its first conference loss to Nebraska almost a week ago and then got blown out by sixth-ranked Louisville. Interestingly, every Big Ten team save three have a loss in conference already, with Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin the only three without a conference loss. Reeling a bit, the Badgers may have caught the Hoosiers at a good time, or Indiana may be primed to redeem themselves after their recent struggles.
Wisconsin and Indiana split the season series last year with each team winning at home. This year the two programs are expected to be among four or five contenders for the conference title. Tonight is the first meeting and then the two programs will meet again in early February. Let’s take a closer look at the match up.
Ethan Happ vs. Thomas Bryant
In the first game the two played to a draw, each scoring 10 points (Indiana won the game 59-58). In the most recent meeting, Wisconsin beat Indiana 82-79 in overtime. Happ had 25 points (on 10-for-15 from the floor), eight rebounds and four steals. Bryant played well too (16 points and seven rebounds), but the edge (and the win) goes to Happ.
Wisconsin relies so much on Happ’s ability to get high-percentage looks around the rim and Bryant struggled defensively when Happ threw a several moves at him. Happ-Bryant will be fun to watch, especially when Wisconsin’s on offense. Bryant has the skill and size to make life hard for Happ, but he’ll have to stay disciplined on ball fakes.
Who guards Nigel Hayes?
Hayes didn’t play particularly well at Indiana last year, but he scored 31 points in their home overtime win (and made 17 of 22 from the line).
Luckily Indiana can throw a couple of people at him. OG Anunoby, back from an early season injury, has the size and athleticism to stay with Hayes, so does Juwan Morgan, even though they both give up a little weight-wise.
I’d expect Hayes to stay in attack mode, rather than settle for outside jumpers. Indiana may very well play off him on the perimeter, daring Hayes to shoot. Doing so makes driving more difficult, but Hayes could look for more post-ups in that scenario.
His vision/passing is also key and if Indiana needs to double him in the post or on drives, he’ll find open teammates. Hayes will have to play well for Wisconsin to beat Indiana on the road and much of it might boil down to his approach to Indiana’s defensive looks.
How does Wisconsin guard the perimeter?
The Badgers have struggled to guard dynamic perimeter guards who can get to the rim and finish in traffic. James Blackmon Jr. (17.3 PPG) and Robert Johnson (13.8 PPG) are Indiana’s two leading scorers.
Those two are more shooters than drivers, but they’ll stretch the Wisconsin defense and force them to guard to the very reaches of the three point line.
Wisconsin’s had a week off and Indiana has played two tough games, both losses. The Hoosiers will be fired up and the crowd will support them. This’ll be a tough game for Wisconsin to win, but these early Big Ten road games are important.