Zeller's supportive supporting cast (l-r): Oladipo, Ferrell, and Sheehey - Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
We get an IU blogger's perspective on whether the Assembly Hall magic is back and Indiana's possible weakness, while trying to get to the bottom of Will Sheehey's wild celebrations this year.
Indiana (15-1, 3-0 Big Ten) will tip off against Wisconsin as the newly-minted No. 2 team in the nation on Tuesday night. However, the Badgers (12-4, 3-0) are holding a pair of incredible winning streaks over these Hoosiers, having won 10 in a row over Indiana -- including the only four-game winning streak by an opponent inside Assembly Hall. Both runs are truly remarkable when you stop to consider what Indiana basketball has meant over the years.
This year will be the stiffest challenge yet for the Badgers, as Tom Crean finally has the recruits in place that Hoosier Nation has been clamoring for. All-American Cody Zeller is a year older and wiser. A bevy of complimentary pieces have allowed Indiana to dominate at times, but also finish in close games.
John M from The Crimson Quarry agreed to answer a few of our burning questions regarding all things Indiana.
B5Q: Indiana is an offensive juggernaut which has not been held under 82 points at home all season. While I fully expect Wisconsin to be the first to keep the Hoosiers from 80, how would you describe the effect the Assembly Hall crowd/atmosphere has on this team?
The Crimson Quarry: The Assembly Hall crowds remained good even during IU's three 20-loss seasons, and since the fortunes of the team have turned around the atmosphere has been like nothing I've ever seen there. IU has lost only one home game in the past two seasons, so after a few years, I do think Assembly Hall is back to being a place where IU is going to win nearly all of its games. Still, I can't overlook that Wisconsin was the only Big Ten team to beat IU at home in 2008, and the only team to beat IU at home in 2002, the year of IU's last (shared) Big Ten title and Final Four appearance. In short, Assembly Hall is great, but that hasn't necessarily stopped your Badgers.
B5Q: Explain Will Sheehey's spastic 3-point celebration (multiple fingers pointed at his temple like a gun) if you can ... is there any chance that he knocks himself out at some point this season by head-butting a basket stanchion?
CQ: I don't know its origin, but as you point out, three fingers, three points, that seems to be the context. I don't expect Sheehey to headbutt anything because that would mess up his hair.
B5Q: How do you see the matchup between Cody Zeller and Jared Berggren playing out this time? Zeller was not a huge factor in Wisconsin's two wins last year, and much of the credit goes to Berggren. The outcome of this matchup could tip the scales in either direction.
CQ: Although Zeller did struggle in the trip to Madison, mostly with foul trouble, he did have a pretty good game in the Big Ten Tournament: 17 points, 5-9/7-8 shooting, although only one rebound obviously is a problem. Still, I don't doubt that he is aware of how that matchup went, and I would expect that he will be better, and hopefully will try to ensure that Berggren is on the bench this year instead of him.
B5Q: We all recognize how good Zeller is. He's the straw that stirs the drink, so to speak. Why do all the pieces around him work so well together?
CQ: It's simply a well-constructed lineup. It's arguable that IU has the best big man in the country (Zeller), the best shooter in the country (Jordan Hulls), and the best guy taking the ball to the basket in the country (Victor Oladipo). That combination alone would be a major problem for any team attempting to defend IU, but in addition to those guys IU has a 6-9 forward who can shoot from anywhere and who has been increasingly physical down low, a really talented freshman point guard who is playing much better recently, and an experienced bench. When things are going well (such as in the first half against Minnesota) they may be impossible to beat.
B5Q: Do you see major differences between this year's team and last year's edition? Or are they subtle differences?
CQ: Somewhere in between. The defensive effort and intensity have been much better this season. That was a major flaw on last year's team. The addition of Ferrell, a playmaking point guard, adds a dimension that IU hasn't had in years. Besides Ferrell, however, the freshmen have played sporadically, so generally these guys are the same guys as last year with another season of experience and offseason work.
B5Q: Certainly losing in overtime to Butler on a neutral floor is nothing to be ashamed of, though I guess you'd have to call that the low point of IU's season to date since the Hoosiers are 15-1. But there have been other close calls, like squeaking by Georgetown in OT, escaping at Iowa, and the scary second half versus Minnesota. Has there been a common thread in any of those games that an opponent could key in on?
CQ: I would say that the common thread in each of those games is that IU had multiple opportunities to put each game away but didn't. As you know, IU led by 23 at the half against Minnesota. Against Georgetown, IU led by 8 with four minutes to go and with 7 with just over a minute to go. IU led Butler by 7 with 9 minutes to go before a three point flurry gave Butler the lead. "Killer instinct" is a cliche, but IU simply hasn't been able to finish those teams off when given the opportunity.
B5Q: The Hoosiers are interesting to me in that they push the tempo, but due to injuries are actually not that deep a squad right now. Which player besides Zeller would be the biggest hurdle to overcome if IU encounters foul trouble?
CQ: Oladipo probably is the biggest factor simply because he creates such problems for the opponent on both ends of the court.
B5Q: Yogi Ferrell and his classmates came in with a lot of fanfare this season. Has he lived up to expectations? Have any other freshmen made a real impact yet?
CQ: Not really. Jeremy Hollowell has played the most, other than Ferrell, and he has played some solid defense but has struggled offensively. Hanner Mosquera-Perea was suspended until mid-December because of an odd NCAA issue. He's perhaps the most talented freshman but is a bit raw and the late start to his season didn't help. The other freshman, Peter Jurkin, is basically a project.
B5Q: Is Bloomington truly in "national title or bust" mode this year? How confident are Hoosier fans in taking the Big Ten title and how do you see the league shaking out in the end?
I try to avoid thinking that way, simply because the Tournament can be so crazy. Still, I can't deny that IU fans are placing outsized importance on this season. It's been 10 years since IU went to the Final Four, 20 years since IU had a team that was expected to contend for the title, and 26 years since IU's last title. If this were just one in a series of good teams, the attitude might be different. But given how long IU has been down, it will be disappointing if it doesn't happen. But the future is bright. I don't think anyone here is taking the Big Ten for granted. Given the quality of the teams it may be no easier than winning the NCAA title. I tend do think IU and Michigan will be there in the end, but Minnesota, Wisconsin, and OSU should be factors as well.
From a Badger perspective, I think playing well in Bloomington -- win or lose -- is a good sign that Wisconsin is on the right track through this perilous stretch of schedule. And between Berggren, Dekker, Oladipo and Zeller, there are bound to be some highlight reel dunks tonight.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Jared Berggren, Sr.||F||Cody Zeller, So.|
|Mike Bruesewitz, Sr.||F||Christian Watford, Sr.|
|Ryan Evans, Sr.||F / G||Victor Oladipo, Jr.|
|Ben Brust, Jr.||G||Jordan Hulls, Sr.|
|Traevon Jackson, So.||G||Yogi Ferrell, Fr.|
KenPom win probability: 17% (72-61 L) 66 possessions
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.