The national narrative on Wednesday is easy to predict.
Indiana still hasn't beaten anybody good in the Big Ten, and the Hoosiers can't be average teams on the road. Jury still out on Indiana.
That will come from the mouths of Indiana skeptics and national media guys who only see Indiana every so often. Is it fair? Probably, yes. The jury is still out on IU, and the Hoosiers haven't beaten anyone in the Big Ten.
But Indiana's 82-79 defeat at Wisconsin on Tuesday night isn't a bad loss, in my mind. The Hoosiers (17-4, 7-1 Big Ten) turned it over 19 times, shot 19 fewer free throws than Wisconsin, dealt with health issues from OG Anunoby, and still had chances to win against a top 60 team on the road. The Hoosiers have still have not won at the Kohl Center, and they've lost 14 straight games at Wisconsin overall.
"All things considered, I'm proud of the way our team battled," Tom Crean said afterward. "We knew it would be a battle coming in here. We made a lot of mistakes and we have to get better, but I'm proud of the way we battled."
It is a game, though, that will likely haunt the Hoosiers. It was right there for the taking, and they just couldn't quite grasp it.
Yogi Ferrell continued his exceptional play with several clutch shots down the stretch in regulation. His 3-pointer with 1:13 left gave Indiana a 69-67 lead, and his layup with 23 seconds remaining put IU up 71-69. But the Hoosiers couldn't stop Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes without fouling, and he answered both Ferrell scores with trips to the foul line.
"He was rested. He got a chance to be on that foul line quite a bit," Crean said. "I would get a lot of confidence too if I was getting a chance to shoot a lot of free throws."
Added Ferrell: "They were at home, so we knew they were going to get the foul calls and we weren't. Just have to find a way to overcome that. We didn't."
Indiana had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Hayes did a good job keeping Ferrell out of the lane and his off-balanced shot was off the mark. Ferrell got Hayes in the air with a pump fake, but Hayes managed to stay away from Ferrell's body and avoid a foul.
"Luckily he didn't go into me," Hayes said. "I did my best to stay vertical, but he kind of gave us a break by not going into me and creating that contact."
The Hoosiers had their chances in overtime as well, but again, they couldn't keep Wisconsin off the foul line. Nine of the Badgers' 11 OT points came at the charity stripe. Indiana had one last chance, down two with 2 seconds left, but the inbounds pass was deflected and the game was over.
An opportunity missed for the Hoosiers, who saw their 12-game winning streak snapped in perhaps the likeliest of places. They had 12 turnovers after halftime (they'll be running 17s until they collapse on Wednesday), and they watched helplessly as the Badgers marched to the free-throw line. Wisconsin attempted 37 free throws -- made 28 -- and Hayes was 17-of-22. Indiana attempted a total of 18 for the game.
"A couple of times, it was just get Nigel the ball and get out of the way," said Wisconsin interim coach Greg Gard. "That was the play call."
In Indiana's last three games at Wisconsin, the Badgers have attempted 92 free throws. Indiana has attempted 32 during that span.
"Certainly the 19 free-throw differential is a head scratcher for me," Crean said. "We've got to continue to look at how we create more contact, I guess. I was told that's what Yogi was doing, that's why he wasn't getting to the line. I've got to watch the film to see what we can do to get fouled more."
But while the foul line was important, it was far from the reason Indiana lost the game. The Hoosiers turned the ball over on a whopping 25% of their possessions, and they got little production from players not named Ferrell or Thomas Bryant.
Ferrell finished with 30 points and 7 rebounds on 12-of-20 shooting, and Bryant had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. Troy Williams did come on late and finished with 15 points, though he was just 4-of-14 from the field.
Robert Johnson was a complete non-factor -- he's really struggled in road conference games -- and Anunoby appeared to be under the weather. Nick Zeisloft actually hurt the Hoosiers with two critical misses down the stretch in OT. He missed a wide open 3 that would have given Indiana the lead with just over a minute left, and he blew an uncontested layup with 10 seconds left. Zeisloft had 2 points in 23 minutes.
Then there was the defensive end, where the Hoosiers struggled to contain Hayes and redshirt freshman big man Ethan Happ. Anunoby was the only one who could shut down Hayes, but his minutes were limited. When matched up against Collin Hartman or Juwan Morgan, Hayes simply barrelled his way to the basket and usually scored or was fouled.
Happ did much of his damage against Bryant, who couldn't stay with the quicker Happ on post moves underneath. Happ, who has quietly had a solid year for the Badgers, finished with 25 points and 8 rebounds. Hayes had a game-high 31 points.
"He's hard to guard, especially when he hooks," Crean said of Happ. "He's really hard to guard when he gets that other arm in there. You've got to do a better job of getting position early. But he's very skilled. He's one of the best players underneath the board. But there were too many times when we let him keep too deep, too much post depth."
Ferrell shut down Bronson Koenig for the second time this year -- he had 4 points on 1-of-9 shooting -- but it didn't matter. The Hoosiers couldn't stop Wisconsin inside, and the friendly home whistle undoubtedly encouraged the Badgers to go in there more.
Here's the bottom line for me: It's one loss, and the Hoosiers will be fine. They had several things working against them on Tuesday night, and they were still right there at the end with a chance to win. This loss does make IU's upcoming game at Michigan much more important if the Hoosiers hope to contend for a Big Ten title.