MADISON, Wis. -- Oh, how the mighty had fallen. The No. 16 Indiana Hoosiers have 20 Big Ten championships to their name, as well as five national titles, but Indiana's recent history would suggest otherwise. After being a perennial conference and NCAA tournament contender under Bob Knight, Indiana slowly fell from the Big Ten's top tier after Knight was fired in 2000.
The Hoosiers, under fourth-year coach Tom Crean, were 28-66 in his first three years at the helm. That 29.7 percent winning percentage is far short of their 66.1 all-time winning percentage, and shows how much work the Hoosiers had to do to to get back on top.
But this season has been different for Indiana. They started the year 15-1, with wins over No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Ohio State, before dropping three Big Ten games in a row. But the Hoosiers hot start left an impression on the No. 25 Badgers, who host Indiana Thursday night at the Kohl Center. Sophomore guard Josh Gasser told reporters after practice the team isn't surprised by Indiana's resurgence.
"I wouldn't say surprised," Gasser said. "We knew going in to the year they were bringing pretty much everyone back. (And) they were a pretty good team last year. They had some good wins, and were in pretty much every game."
Wisconsin senior point guard Jordan Taylor said he was off by a year in guessing when Indiana would break out of the Big Ten basement and be competitive in the conference once again.
"I feel like they've been knocking on the door for a while," Taylor said. "I expected them to break through even sooner."
"They've got a lot of talent, and they have now for a couple years. Every year it seems like they've got a top five recuriting class come in ... I think it was just a matter of time before they put it all together."
That talent has played a big role in Indiana's rebirth. Freshman forward Cody Zeller in particular has made his mark on the team. Zeller is averaging 15.1 points per game, to go with 6.4 rebounds. Gasser mentioned the 6-foot-11 forward as one of the reasons behind Indiana's success.
"They've got a lot of talent returning, and I think Zeller ... is a guy who came in (and) provided a boost to get over the top," Gasser said. "They're a well coached team. They play hard, and when you add that with talent and experience it makes for a pretty good team."
Taylor mentioned that the Hoosiers have no shortage of scoring options this season, as well.
"They're a little bit like Iowa in the ways they can score the ball," Taylor said. "They have so many options."
Even that might be an understatement. The Hoosiers have five players who are averaging 10 or more points per game: Zeller, Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, and Will Sheehey. As a team, the Hoosiers score just under 80 points -- good enough for 16th in the nation, and first in the Big Ten. The Badgers are holding teams to 61.4 points per game this season, and they'll have to try and keep up that pace if they want to contain the Hoosiers on Thursday.
In addition, Gasser believes that Big Ten is better off with a competitive Hoosiers team.
"Any time you have multiple teams that are out there fighting with each other, it makes the league a lot more interesting," Gasser said.