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Beating Hoosiers now familiar feeling for Badgers

Eight straight.

That's how many times in a row Wisconsin has beaten Indiana, dating back to the 2006-07 season. The recent ownage runs deeper still: Indiana has never beaten Bo Ryan at the Kohl Center and the Badgers have won 14 of the last 17 contests with IU, a run that began in 2002.

Thursday night's match up features two teams seemingly on different paths right now. The Badgers (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) already waved to the Hoosiers as they climbed up the Big Ten leaderboard on a four-game winning streak. Indiana (16-4, 4-4) pulled back to .500 with Sunday's win over Penn State, but had slid down the ladder thanks to a three-game losing streak of its own.

Can you say "trap game"?

Now, if this IU team was not ranked higher (No. 16) than Wisconsin (No. 25), with impressive victories over No. 1 Kentucky, then-No. 2 Ohio State and a ranked Michigan squad, then UW might be in danger of overlooking such a group. The Badgers expect Indiana to be good.

As it is, Wisconsin has a road trip to lowly Penn State up next, so this would not qualify as a traditional trap game anyway. Given the the return of the students and the Tom Crean/Marquette angle, the Kohl Center crowd should have no problem getting amped up either.

So if the Hoosiers are pretty good and the Badgers won't possibly overlook them, why is Wisconsin favored by a touchdown?

The problem with Indiana's impressive resume is that all those wins were at home. Each season while rebuilding, Tom Crean pulls off a coup or two (Pitt in 2010, ranked Illinois and Minnesota teams in the same week last year), but has yet to return Indiana to the promised land. And Crean is still 3-12 lifetime against the University of Wisconsin.

Now Crean has the horses. In fact, the general consensus is that he has the significantly better horses, led by freshman sensation Cody Zeller. Not only that, but Wisconsin and Indiana look nearly identical when it comes to the amount of experience on their respective rosters.

Would that worry you? I don't think it worries Bo Ryan. His team will continue to play its game at its pace (59.5 possessions/game is dead last in the country), controlling the tempo as well as any team in the nation. Meanwhile the Hoosiers run at the third-quickest tempo in the Big Ten. Five players average double figures in scoring, with the fifth starter (Verdell Jones) adding close to 8 ppg. You want to run Indiana? Be Bo's guest.

Indiana's Achilles' heel under Crean has been turnovers and fouling. The Hoosiers are marginally better at fouling this season, but Wisconsin's tendency to shot fake will likely still bring a benefit here. The ball control issues still plague IU, as it ranks 10th in the league in turnover percentage (21% in league games). Worse yet, the Hoosiers don't force opponents into a lot of turnovers either.

While Wisconsin's weakness during its three-game slide was poor shooting, Indiana has not shown the capacity to force anybody in the Big Ten not named Penn State into bad shooting nights. The Hoosiers are 11th in the conference in defensive efficiency, allowing 1.095 points per possession. Crean has admitted he will throw a few different defensive looks at Wisconsin. For his sake, I hope he doesn't try a 1-3-1 zone ...

Jordan Taylor leads Wisconsin's pace enforcement coalition. With Taylor picking up his offense of late -- to the tune of 16 points and 6 rebounds per-game, 5.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and 27-of-37 free throw shooting over his last four outings -- the Hoosiers may feel a small moral victory if the senior standout doesn't lay another career-high on them like he did last year.

Victor Oladipo is one possible Taylor defender. Oladipo is everything Wisconsin lacks -- an athletic, 6'5" driving machine. And a capable defender. There are rumors that Crean may even stick little-used freshman reserve Remy Abell on Taylor. Either way, diminutive Jordan Hulls is probably not the wisest match up on Taylor at the Kohl Center.

Hulls can really shoot it though, leading a trio of Hoosier 3-point marksmen with 45 made 3-pointers. Indiana is one of the best shooting teams in the nation across the board, with an effective field goal percentage of 56.6 because of its 45% shooting behind the arc.

Oddly Zeller, the team's leading scorer (15.1) and rebounder (6.4), may not be the biggest threat to Wisconsin in this game, unless Jared Berggren gets in foul trouble. Zeller is supremely skilled, but Berggren has performed his best the few times he's gone toe-to-toe with featured traditional pivots, like Meyers Leonard and the North Carolina bigs, John Henson and Tyler Zeller. But that, we're told, is why they actually play the games.

At 6'9" Christian Watford does not play on the block as much as you would expect, though he could hurt the Badgers with his outside touch (33-of-69 on 3-pointers) if Mike Bruesewitz or Ryan Evans get lazy on closeouts. Three-point defense has been a strength for Wisconsin all year, so this will be a nice test for the Badgers. Conversely, it will be interesting to see what a guy like Ryan Evans can do to Jones offensively.

This game is a big opportunity for Indiana to show what they are made of, while it's a chance for Wisconsin to extend an almost unprecedented run of dominance over basketball royalty.

So yeah, I know, certain folks still like to trumpet the mantra, "It's Indiana."

I say, "Not yet."

For some additional self-study from an Indiana perspective, check out a couple Hoosier-centric podcasts:


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