At a school that needs basketball for its water cooler sports talk — the football team did allow 83 points in a game this season — Indiana has been down way too deep in the Big Ten rankings for way too long. Wisconsin has beaten Indiana six straight times, and looks like a pretty strong bet to make it seven Thursday night. The Hoosiers currently rank No. 9 in conference play with a 1-4 record and a 10-8 record overall.
But does this mean IU head coach Tom Crean is not improving the team?
If you ask, any Badger basketball player or coach, this will be the toughest version of the Hoosiers they will have faced in four years.
"He had a young team to start [three years ago], and now if you look up and down that roster all those players are improved," UW assistant coach Gary Close said. "Verdell Jones is better, Christian Watford is better, Jordan Hulls is better and they have more depth. They have added some pieces to the puzzle with some of the younger guys. It is a young promising team that has been getting better."
The improvement has not shown in the wins column. Due to some bad luck, however, that may be a case where Crean rolls out his best Hoosier team right as the Big Ten becomes as strong as it has been in a decade.
With six teams currently in the top 25, there has been little margin for error in Big Ten contests — as the Badgers discovered at Michigan State — and Indiana's improvement may just be keeping instep with the rest of the conference.
The Hoosiers nearly pulled upsets at Minnesota and at Northwestern, and seeing as this is Bo Ryan's Badgers, who consider Division II Minnesota-Mankato an upset threat, no one in the Kohl Center is taking Indiana lightly.
"We know we have to prepare just like any other game because they have talented guys and they can do a lot of things," UW forward Jon Leuer said. "We just approach it the same way … any loss is damaging in the Big Ten and if you let one slip away you might not have a chance to be a Big Ten contender and win a Big Ten Championship."
Indiana is most dangerous in its ability to score in bunches.
Watford, the teams leading scorer, is shooting three-pointers at a 40 percent clip while Hulls is knocking down treys at a 51 percent clip.
As a team, the Hoosiers average 75.2 points per game (third in the Big Ten) at a 49 percent field goal clip, good for No. 9 overall in the country.
Combine that with Crean's usual brand of feisty, in-your-face play, and Indiana has to be on constant upset alert.
"They are doing a lot of dribble penetration but they are shooting the three really well, at 40 percent in Big Ten play." Close said. "They have four or five guys knocking shots down. They have a lot of athletes taking you off the dribble and then you got to help and they get some threes."