It's pretty ridiculous if you stop to think about it. Jordan Taylor has played in all 131 games during his Badger career, starting 82 of them. Not one of his 92 wins has come in the Big Ten Tournament.
That's right. Though Taylor will certainly go down as one of the best players in Wisconsin history, he and fellow senior Rob Wilson are 0-for-3 when it comes to conference tournament time. And Vegas is betting that these two Badgers won't get it done, installing No. 14 Wisconsin (23-8, 12-6 Big Ten) as a two-point underdog to No. 15 Indiana (24-7, 11-7) in Friday afternoon's tilt on a "feels like home" court in Indianapolis.
The opponent is daunting, but at least the match up is more intriguing than a Penn State-Wisconsin game would have been. Both teams have a lot to prove. Plus, with Branden Dawson out for Michigan State and Ohio State scraping by of late, you get the feeling that the tournament title is completely up for grabs.
For as much progress as Indiana has made this season, Tom Crean still hasn't accomplished anything in March with the Hoosiers. But Indiana comes in on a five-game roll and essentially gets its wish to play the Badgers on its turf after the teams met just once, in Madison, this season. Wisconsin won that meeting, 57-50.
The Hoosiers were the most efficient offensive club in the Big Ten this season, boasting the best free throw rate and highest 3-point shooting percentage (41.4). The free throws highlight one of the major ways in which the addition of co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year Cody Zeller has lifted Indiana.
Another concern for Bo Ryan could be the similarities between Indiana and Iowa. The Hawkeyes ranked right with the Hoosiers in free throw rate and 3-point shooting this year and gave the Badgers fits. Add in a nearly identical tempo (65.8 possessions/game for Iowa, 65.4 for Indiana) and you begin to see why the oddsmakers are thinking the way they are.
I'll let the graph do the talking now:
However, Indiana may shoot a high percentage from deep, but their top shooters aren't quite the caliber of individual player that Matt Gatens is. Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey and Matt Roth are more one-dimensional (Christian Watford is a whole 'nother enigma). It typically takes that special kind of scorer to destroy the Badgers from the outside considering UW is second to only Michigan State in holding league foes to under 30% shooting behind the arc.
Sadly, Indiana senior Verdell Jones will also miss the game with a knee injury. He carried Indiana for stretches in Madison, scoring 12 first-half points.
For Wisconsin, Taylor will be the engine to the Badger attack as usual. But the key could be Wilson, who has averaged 8 ppg on 7-for-16 shooting from 3-point land in the past four games. He has shown the ability to string together smart basketball plays in a way he hasn't very often done in his career. It's also something starters like Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren haven't displayed consistently down the stretch this season either.
Guys like Josh Gasser know what's at stake for their senior teammates Friday, but don't expect a sentimental effort. After all, if the seniors haven't won a game in Indianapolis, then no one else on the team has either. And being fed up can be a powerful thing. As much as Coach Ryan would never say it, extra motivation is not a bad thing in my eyes. In fact, it might be enough to give the Badgers the boost they need at a difficult moment against Indiana.
No outcome can be as bad as last year's Penn State debacle, but winning one for the Gipper -- or in this case, Taylor and Wilson -- would be taste sweet indeed.
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