It's been a few days now since Wisconsin ran roughshod over then-ranked Illinois, and while the Badgers were certainly humming offensively in that contest, I'm a bit worried about Tuesday's matchup with the struggling Indiana Hoosiers.
Yeah, I know the Badgers currently boast a 12-game winning streak against IU, with five of those victories coming at Assembly Hall, but I'm wary that all good things must come to an end. So for me, tonight just feels like a trap game.
The Badgers haven't played in six days -- not often does a team go that long without a game in the middle of conference play.
Wisconsin is undefeated, and as great as Bo Ryan's bunch has looked this season, let's be real, this team is going to lose at some point.
Indiana is fighting for its proverbial life right now, as many pundits have the Hoosiers pegged as a bubble team on the outside looking in.
There are many factors that indicate enough of a storm might be brewing tonight that could cause the Badgers' first loss of the season, but will the cardinal and white find a way to navigate through the a raucous environment and come out unscathed?
They just might, and in the end, Wisconsin is a much better basketball team than Indiana regardless of tonight's result. Looking at the Hoosiers' schedule, their five losses have come against the five best teams they've played to this point, including one 10 days ago in Bloomington to No. 5 Michigan State.
Still, though, Indiana has great individual talent that can burn you if you let it, and the Badgers can't go in thinking a 13th straight win in this series will be easy. Therefore, here are three keys to tonight's ballgame that could help the Badgers find themselves on the good side of the win/loss column.
Get to the free throw line
In Indiana's five losses, opposing teams have averaged almost 22 trips to the charity stripe and are making 69 percent of those foul shots. On the season, Wisconsin is averaging more than 23 free throw attempts per game, and the Badgers are making those at a 73 percent clip.
Quite simply, the Badgers need to try and do the majority of their damage in the paint, either drawing fouls or finishing at the rim. This is another way of saying don't settle for threes.
Indiana Q&A: B5Q grills Crimson Quarry
Wisconsin's recent dominance over Indiana is staggering. We asked JustAJ from The Crimson Quarry if the Badgers can keep their streak alive in a sneaky tough matchup in Bloomington.
Over the years, we've seen Wisconsin become trigger-happy from distance while on the road, and I don't see the Badgers shooting the rock all that well tonight having not played in a few days. Also, look back to last year's win at Assembly Hall -- Wisconsin shot 55 percent from the floor on twos (16-of-19) and just 32 percent on threes (7-of-22).
The recipe for a win tonight is get the job done inside the three-point arc.
Get back in transition defense
With the athletes at his disposal, we know Tom Crean wants to get up and down the floor as much as possible against the Badgers. Yogi Ferrell is having an outstanding season as the Hoosiers' floor general, and Will Sheehey is as athletic as you get on the wing -- those are IU's main two scoring threats in transition.
As talented as those guys can be in the open floor, they're also prone to making mistakes, as is the entire Indiana team for that matter. The Hoosiers are averaging over 16 turnovers per game, which is the most in the Big Ten and the ninth-most nationally. If the Badgers get back on defense and force Ferrell and company to run through much of the shot clock to get a good look, it becomes more likely that a mistake will ensue.
On the flip side, Wisconsin is one of the least mistake-prone teams in America, turning the ball over just about eight times per game. If the statistics hold true tonight, the Badgers should have at least eight additional opportunities to work with off Hoosier turnovers, and if they capitalize, that could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Ride the freshman, Nigel Hayes
Hayes is off to a fantastic start in his young Wisconsin career, and he's proving he belongs in Big Ten play, as well. Hayes is averaging 12.67 points in the Badgers' three conference games so far, and even more encouraging is he's gone to the free throw line 19 times in those contests.
Electing Hayes as my highlighted Badger tonight is rooted in my first key above: the guy just draws contact. Sure, Hayes isn't as talented or as athletic as Hoosiers freshman star Noah Vonleh, but that doesn't mean he'll shy away from going right at the 6'10 power forward. I expect Hayes to get the better of that matchup, assuming he stays aggressive as he has the past three games.
Vonleh has shown the propensity to get himself in foul trouble this season, and if the Hoosiers don't have him on the floor making an impact for the duration tonight, then Wisconsin handily makes it 13 straight wins and remains unbeaten. So Sir Nigel, get it done young fella.
Prediction: My gut tells me take Indiana, but my head says go with Bucky. After delving through some stats and watching a little film, I think my head wins out. Wisconsin 78, Indiana 71.
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