Tonight wouldn't be a bad time for Indiana and coach Tom Crean to put a dent into the theory that his teams can't succeed against Wisconsin and its style of play.
Heck, if recent reports out of Missouri are correct, this may be the last chance that Tom Crean can disprove the theory.
It's a theory with a lot of fact behind it as Wisconsin has feasted at the Hoosiers expense. Since Crean arrived in 2008-09, the Badgers are 15-2 against Indiana, including a sweep of IU in this year's regular season.
If you go back a full decade into the last year of the Kelvin Sampson era, the Badgers have won 17 of the last 19 against the Hoosiers.
Wisconsin (23-8, 12-6) is the No. 2 seed tonight in this Big Ten tourney quarterfinal. It's facing a No. 10 seed Hoosier team (18-14, 7-11) fresh off an impressive 95-73 route of No. 7 seed Iowa last night.
SEE RELATED: Hoosier Game Day: Indiana vs. Wisconsin
A full strength Indiana team lost to this Badger team in Bloomington back on January 3, 75-68.
Sophomore Ethan Happ has been a constant thorn in Indiana's side in his career and led the Badgers with 19 points in the first meeting. Senior Bronson Koenig added 17 points and his early shooting helped the Badgers get off to a quick start, jumping on the Hoosiers, 13-0.
In the February 5th rematch in Madison, Indiana was a different team. By then it had lost OG Anunoby for the season to knee surgery and was without leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. The Hoosier junior suffered a lower leg injury in a loss at Michigan and missed that game.
Blackmon Jr. is healthy now as shown by his team high 23 points last night on 7-for-9 shooting from the floor at the Verizon Center.
Despite being short-handed, Indiana stayed close to Wisconsin throughout, but could never get over the hump in a 65-60 setback. Once again Happ was the man for coach Greg Gard, making 8-for-10 shots in a team high 20-point night. Josh Newkirk had one of his best games in a Hoosier uniform, scoring a game high 22 points.
One reason Wisconsin has owned this series of late is it takes better care of the basketball than Indiana traditionally has the last decade. In the first meeting in Bloomington the Badgers owned a 23-9 edge in points off turnovers. In Madison they had a 16-6 edge.
Keeping that differential in check will be key for Indiana tonight.
A win by Indiana would really bolster the Hoosiers shot at sneaking into the NCAA tournament if it doesn't earn an auto berth with three wins this weekend. Right now Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Indiana as his "Next Four Out" -- a group below the "First Four Out" category. Translated that means Indiana might jump into a "First Four Out" group with an upset win tonight. Another victory Saturday could put IU seriously in the mix and give the program 20 wins.
That's a pair of big ifs but Indiana is playing well, especially offensively, averaging 95.5 points per game in its last two contests.
One reason the task is a tall one tonight is the Badgers start four seniors including several guys with Final Four experience including long time starters Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Happ was on one of those Final Four teams but redshirted due to the plethora of top big forwards that Bo Ryan enjoyed at the time.
"They're the most experienced team in the country," said Tom Crean last night. "That's not by accident that they're so good. They play well together. They can shoot. They can post. They can rebound. They do a tremendous job of making it hard for you to find those gaps in their defense."
Despite that experience, Wisconsin limped down the stretch, losing five of its last seven. The Badgers have struggled this year in making free throws and in defending the 3-point shot. The latter could be a real issue as Indiana was hot last night from 3-point distance, making 12-for-20.
Opposing teams have also learned to double team Happ in the post, something you should see Indiana try often this evening. One big reason doubling Happ and Nigel Hayes in the post has been successful is the aforementioned free throw issue. Happ is just 47.8 percent on his free throws this season and Hayes isn't much better, making 58.4 percent.
Those two bigs, however, pass the ball well. Happ leads the team with 90 assists this year and Hayes is just one back at 89 assists.
They key for Indiana could also be not letting a non-Big Three (Hayes, Happ & Koenig) player have a big game. If Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown or one of the bench players gets going, Wisconsin will be hard to beat. In the second contest, freshman guard Brevin Pritzl had six second half points, then a career high.
Here's a look at the expected Wisconsin starters with season stats:
|24||G||Bronson Koenig||6-3/190||Senior||La Crosse, Wisc.||14.2||2.0 apg|
|3||G||Zak Showalter||6-3/185||Senior||Germantown, Wisc.||8.2||2.6 apg|
|10||F||Nigel Hayes||6-8/240||Senior||Toledo, Ohio||13.5||6.2 rpg|
|22||F||Ethan Happ||6-10/235||Soph||Milan, Ill.||13.9||9.0 rpg|
|30||F||Vitto Brown||6-8/235||Senior||Bowling Green, Ohio||6.8||4.0 rpg|
|00||G||D'Mitrik Rice||6-0/178||Frosh||Huber Heights, Ohio||5.9||1.6 apg|
|21||G||Khalil Iverson||6-5/212||Soph||Delaware, Ohio||3.8||3.1 rpg|
|11||G||Jordan Hill||6-4/172||Junior||Pasadena, Calif.||1.6||1.2 rpg|
|1||G||Brevin Pritzl||6-3/195||Frosh||De Pere, Wisc.||2.1||1.3 rpg|
|15||F||Charles Thomas||6-8/252||Soph||Highland, Md.||2.3||1.3 rpg|