Eventually the Bo Ryan-Tom Crean rivalry will be good again, but unless the Hoosiers can work some magic to get out of their current five-game losing streak, the spark in this rivalry likely won't be lit Saturday at the Kohl Center.
Just a week or two ago, Crean was making a pretty good case for Big Ten Coach of the Year, but the Hoosiers recent play has slowed that talk down. IU jumped out of the Big Ten gate at 3-3, which was a pretty big accomplishment considering the Hoosiers won only one conference game a year ago. But Crean's group has lost five straight and sit near the cellar at 3-8.
While you can fault the Hoosiers for a lot of things -- bad defense, bad shots, mind-boggling passes that can make a coach lose five years off of his life, e.t.c. -- you can't fault them for a lack of trying and you have to credit Crean for not only avoiding a trip to the mental institution, but also for being incredibly patient with his players.
Indiana has a some bad losses -- Boston University, Loyola (Md.) and a 15-point loss to Iowa at home -- but every now and again the Hoosiers do something that makes you realize Crean is going to have this program back to respectability in the near future. How about a 10-point victory over Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden? How about taking Illinois all the way to the end before losing on a Demitri McCamey (I'm sorry, should that name be banned from this site?) buzzer-beater? How about only losing to Purdue by three points?
Crean said after the Purdue loss that he isn't willing to take any moral victories anymore -- at least when it comes to games against the Boilermakers -- but one would think a close loss at Wisconsin, where IU has lost eight consecutive times and has never beat Bo Ryan, would be a decent moral victory.
Ryan and Crean have fought over recruits and games, but IU's lack of success has hindered what should be an even greater coaching rivalry now that the two will meet twice a year for the most part. Crean got Wesley Mathews, but Ryan got Trevon Hughes. Ryan also holds a 6-3 career record against Crean, but that includes two not-so-impressive wins over Indiana last season.
The Hoosiers can't be taken lightly, especially considering the dump the Badgers dropped Tuesday night against Illinois. Verdell Jones III (14.7 ppg) is one of the conference's top sophomores and Christian Watford (12.7) is supplanting himself as one of the better freshmen in the league.
The problem is that since freshman Maurice Creek went down with a season-ending injury after playing just 12 games, the Hoosiers haven't found many weapons beyond Jones and Watford. The next six guys in the rotation all average somewhere between 6.7 points per game and 1.9. Considering UW's defense has been capable of shutting down five scorers at once, facing an IU offense that only has two or three weapons doesn't seem like a very daunting task.
Keys to the Game
- Wake up Hughes. When Trevon Hughes was struggling at Northwestern, he admitted that he wanted to stop shooting but his teammates encouraged him to keep shooting. Eventually he got red-hot and the Badgers won easily. Unfortunately, there have been a few times recently when he has kept shooting when he was cold even though other teammates were red-hot (i.e. Jason Bohannon Tuesday night). Hughes needs to realize that he isn't the only offensive weapon. Spread the ball around, stop trying to take over possessions and get your teammates involved. You were a point-guard for three and half seasons right?
- Don't let Watford get hot. Wisconsin has fallen victim of the pick-and-pop at little too much lately (like the taste of your own medicine?). Watford is a 6-9 forward who can hit a jumper or two. He and Jones are going to get their points, but don't let them do it together, if that makes sense.
- Make shots. It's very simple, but it's true. Since Jon Leuer went out with his wrist injury, Wisconsin has lived and died by the jump shot. Long gone are the days of post-play. The good thing about being able to make jump shots is that when you make them, you can beat just about any team. The bad thing is that when you miss them, you can lose to just about any team. Even Indiana.
Wisconsin 65, Indiana 48