Amber Searls, USA Today Imaging

Column: In the end, it's all about defense

Tonight was just one more example of what has fueled this decade long domination Wisconsin has over Indiana--the Badgers just play a higher level of defense.

Wisconsin's decade long domination of Indiana continued tonight with a 70-60 win over the Hoosiers in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

Box score link

It was the third time this season that Indiana has been defeated by the Badgers and the Hoosiers fall to 18-15 with the loss. The defeat should end any small hopes the team might have had for an at-large NCAA bit and send Indiana into the National Invitational Tournament. 

The 60 points from Indiana were a sharp difference from the 95.5 points averaged in Indiana's most recent two wins over Iowa on Thursday and the regular season finale at Ohio State.

This was the 18th win in the last 20 contests Wisconsin has had against Indiana and the 16th in 18 games in the nine-year Tom Crean era.

The Badgers got it done by completely stifling the Hoosier frontline of Thomas Bryant and De'Ron Davis. The two combined for just one field goal in 10 attempts and just four total points. It also held Indiana's leading score James Blackmon Jr. scoreless for nearly a 25 minute span. It was during that stretch that Wisconsin gained control of the contest, building leads as high as 15 points.

If there's one constant through this last decade its been the "we missed shots we normally make" rationale or the way the game was officiated. For once the latter wasn't at the heart of the difference. Indiana earned nine foul shots and Wisconsin had 11 shots from the line. 

The former did prove to be the case.

"In all honesty, we missed a lot of shots that we've been making, especially around the bucket," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. "I know we got into the paint quite a bit. We just didn't get as much out of there."

Bryant echoed some of those thoughts.

"I just missed some easy bunnies that I normally make in my sleep," Bryant said. "They didn't feel me as much on the defensive end as Iowa did yesterday, so that is on me."

Indiana's numbers bear out the paint struggles. The Hoosiers were just 14-for-34 (41.2 percent) on two-point field goals, about the same rate the team was from behind the arc (9-for-22).

Getting the ball down low is just half the battle. Finishing is another. Wisconsin's big men just know what to do down there versus what Indiana has faced of late against Iowa and Wisconsin. 

To be fair this year, Wisconsin had a big experience edge on the Hoosiers. That showed itself in the way Bronson Koenig (16 points), Ethan Happ (14 points) and Nigel Hayes (10 points) made key plays after Indiana made late runs.

After Indiana cut it to 61-53, Koenig drilled a 3-pointer with 2:23. Then after the Hoosiers got within 64-60 in the final minute, Koenig used much of the shot clock and then drove for a layup with 48 seconds to play.

IU's Robert Johnson turned it over on the next play and this game was in the books as the Badgers went on to score the final six points of the game and will now face Northwestern in Saturday's second semifinal.

"At the end of the day, they've got Koenig. He makes a huge difference," Crean said. "It's ridiculous how much he affects winning. I say that in a good way."

The coach, however, was still insistent on his team's inability to make shots they normally hit.

"I'd love to credit the defense, but we missed a lot of close shots," Crean said. "De'Ron, Thomas, those guys missed close shots around the bucket that if we make those, it's a different story. They made theirs."

The thing is the Hoosiers have been missing those kind of shots during most games against Wisconsin these last 10 years. That's a pretty big sample size.

Just look at the different defensive efficiency numbers for the two programs over the last decade. The number is the national ranking for each:

Year Wisc. Ind.
2007-08 3 51
2008-09 55 186
2009-10 22 174
2010-11 56 134
2011-12 7 74
2012-13 2 21
2013-14 36 38
2014-15 38 201
2015-16 13 59
2016-17 9 103


Should be noted that when Wisconsin fell to No. 38 in defensive efficiency, the Badgers were No. 1 in offensive efficiency and went to the NCAA title game.

Not once in those 10 years has Indiana had a better defensive efficiency. Not once. That's how you lose 18 of 20.


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