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Indiana Hoosiers have to embrace underdog role in Big Ten Conference play

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Indiana Hoosiers (8-6, 1-1) will have to embrace their underdog role to have any success in Big Ten Conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Crossroads Classic-Indiana at Notre Dame Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Hoosiers started off slow but made enough of a push in the second half to close out their final non-conference game against Youngstown State, 79-51.

If you spent the first two months watching this team, you’ll know by now full-on conference play is going to be a constant battle. If Indiana shows up and buys in on nights, they can compete with any team in the conference. Well, then there are the nights that this team disappears, that’s when blowouts and the few teams Indiana is expected to beat pound the Hoosiers.

So the question is which Indiana team will Archie Miller be able to produce night-in and night-out? A team that plays with energy and leadership like they did against No. 18 Notre Dame or when they nearly knocked off No. 1 Duke? Or do the Hoosiers show up flat, disinterested and lose to Rutgers mirroring something similar to Indiana State and Fort Wayne?

It’s no secret, the three-point threat that Indiana has been known for in the past is seemingly no longer there. The Hoosiers through 14 games this season are shooting 30.7% from three, second-worst in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are on pace to have the worst three-point shooting percentage in school history (three-point initiated in the 1986-87 season).

The Hoosiers hit the road this week to take on Wisconsin in Madison on Tuesday and then up to Minnesota on Saturday. Wisconsin played three top-25 teams in non-conference play, going 0-3. The Badgers also lost to UCLA, Temple, and Marquette but finished non-conference play on a four-game winning streak.

The Hoosiers and Badgers, similarly, both schools not living up to normal expectations. Wisconsin is averaging the fewest points per game, 70.4, in their first 15 games while Indiana fairs slightly better at 75.2.

To add to that, Wisconsin is the worst rebounding team in the Big Ten Conference averaging 31.7 rebounds per game. The Hoosiers can take advantage as a collective unit so long as Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis stay out of early foul trouble. Indiana’s Zach McRoberts has played extremely well for the Hoosiers this season and could help accompany Morgan and Davis by dominating the boards.

By The Numbers

  • In the last 20 matchups against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers are 2-18 and their last win in Madison, WI was January 25th, 1998 under Coach Knight.
  • Indiana will play the worst offensive team in the Big Ten on Tuesday, Wisconsin, followed by the third-best offensive team in Minnesota (83.8 points per game).
  • Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy leads the Big Ten in scoring and rebounds, averaging 19.1 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ is sixth best in the conference averaging 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
  • The Hoosiers will need to be conscious of Minnesota big man Reggie Lynch, who is shooting 57.7% from the field (11th best in the conference) and averaging 3.9 blocks per game.
  • Indiana and Wisconsin are identical at 46.8% shooting as a team, the difference in three-point percentage, Indiana 30.7% and Wisconsin 35.7%. The Hoosiers will need to avoid streaks of three-point shooting, including one of the Big Ten’s best Aleem Ford (47.7%).
  • Tempo is going to be important for Indiana, with more attention focused on Saturday’s matchup. Minnesota is No. 59 in tempo according to KenPom, averaging 72.5 possessions per game. The Hoosiers struggled to keep pace with teams who play fast, this could hurt Indiana on Saturday if they flush away possessions early.

Curtis Jones transfers to Oklahoma State

We reported early on in December that Indiana guard Curtis Jones had filed to transfer schools. Jones was averaging less than 12 minutes per game and was struggling to crack legitimate time in Archie Miller’s rotation.

On Monday, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN, Jones will play at Oklahoma State. He won’t be eligible to play until next season, but it will be interesting to see if he ends up panning out the way Tom Crean had hoped he would at Indiana when he recruited him.

Kohl Center Nightmare

Like I mentioned above, Madison has not been particularly friendly to Indiana basketball over the last, oh I don’t know, forever. The Hoosiers haven’t won a game in the state of Wisconsin since Bobby Knight was coaching Indiana. Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson, Dan Dakich, and Tom Crean all failed to snag a road win against the Badgers.

Maybe you forgot just a short year ago, the Hoosiers lost to Wisconsin 65-60 at the Kohl Center. The Hoosiers held the Badgers to 39.6% shooting and 23.5% from the three-point line. The inexplicable frenzy of fouls called late in the game throttled Indiana. The Badgers shot 31 free-throws to Indiana’s 12, a 9-point differential which many called the difference.

Needless to say, you should be more nervous about the game on Tuesday in Wisconsin than the one on Saturday in Minnesota.