Games that are termed "must-win" typically are not between teams whose postseason fates are pretty much set in stone already. Yet Thursday's game in Bloomington is one Wisconsin cannot afford to lose.
Wisconsin has clinched third place in the Big Ten and is pushing towards a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile Indiana, is fighting to stay out of the conference cellar again. Feasting on the Hoosiers again is what a team primed for a postseason run would do. And continuing to build confidence is essential for UW with the big rematch at Ohio State looming.
So you think the Badgers have this one in the bag? Think again. Remember the Hoosiers jumped on the Badgers in Madison on Jan. 20 and gave Kohl Center fans nervous stomachs. After scoring the game's first basket, it took Wisconsin over 26 minutes to reclaim the lead in that one. The team needed Jordan Taylor's first "hello world" performance to get the 69-60 win. That was a part of Indiana's best run of the year, which included two upset wins at home.
Indiana has a much more impressive efficiency margin at home (+0.18) versus on the road (+0.04), due to better defense and rebounding. For comparison, the Badgers are tied for the league lead in efficiency margin at +0.13. But UW's defense has to improve. In addition, Wisconsin's struggles away from home are not only related to poorer shooting, but also to getting out-rebounded 33% of the time. In fact, Wisconsin is winless (0-3) when it loses the battle of the boards on the road.
It just so happens Indiana rebounds better at home as well. But oddly, the Hoosiers turn the ball over more often at home overall. And Indiana really does not have enough size inside to give Wisconsin trouble on the glass. The success of January seems long ago when you are on a six-game skid as Indiana is.
What did give Wisconsin trouble previously was the spunky Jordan Hulls, who sprang for 16 points on a variety of jumpers. Hulls is coming off of a tough outing against Ohio State (3 pts), but forms a nice scoring trio with Christian Watford and Verdell Jones.
The closest thing the Badgers have to a bad loss on the year is the game at Penn State, which is at least a fringe bubble team. Dropping one to Indiana -- home or not -- would depress the tournament committee.
Whether or not Wisconsin can reverse its road shooting woes is anybody's guess. However, it does have a few players giving more consistent scoring. Senior Keaton Nankivil and freshman Josh Gasser are averaging over 25 ppg between them over the last three games. Big Jon Leuer will look to continue humming along as well, fresh off his dominant 26-point , 64% shooting show against Northwestern last Sunday.
|Shooting (Conf. only)||TPPP|