The Hoosiers (16-6, 6-3 Big Ten) are tied with five other teams for second place in the Big Ten, but have lost two of their past three games and split their two games last week (losing at rival Purdue before beating Rutgers at home).
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they play its first home game in nearly two weeks against Indiana, which is the lone matchup between the two teams this season.
Lay up: Attacking the paint
Wisconsin will go from an Iowa team that can matchup with UW’s size and length to an Indiana team that works with a quicker, guard-oriented lineup. Starting four games and no one taller than 6-6, the Hoosiers don’t have the size to come close to matching up with either Frank Kaminsky or Nigel Hayes.
The combination between Hayes and Kaminsky should equal out to plenty of post touches for the duo, as they combine for 30 points a game and are both shooting above 53 percent from the floor. Sam Dekker should also have his chances of finding success down low. Dekker came out aggressive against Iowa in attacking the basket. Dekker will likely face a defender of 6-4 or 6-5 and, like Hayes and Kaminsky, should be able to find ways of getting to the post.
With Indiana not having the length at times to match up with solid frontcourts, the Hoosiers are giving up 33.3 points a game down low, including having an interior defense that has given up 40-plus points in the paint two of the last three games. Although Wisconsin has only reached 30 points in the paint three times since Big Ten play, they average 27.5 points down low in conference play.
Not only does Indiana lack interior size, the Hoosiers are only averaging 5.3 steals a game (tied for 11th in the Big Ten) and 3.3 blocks per game (13th in the Big Ten). Combine that with Wisconsin leading the NCAA in fewest turnovers (7.7), Wisconsin will have a huge advantage if its guards can get off accurate passes to the low block.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin defend the three point line?
Where Indiana lacks in low-post defense, the Hoosiers have made up for it by being a team of proven 3-point shooters. Indiana is hitting 40.2 percent of its 3-point attempts, which ranks first in the Big Ten and 16th in the NCAA, and make 8.9 3-pointers a game. Indiana is the only team in the Big Ten with three individuals amongst the top 15 in three point field goal percentage: Yogi Ferrell (pictured) is hitting a team-best 42.9 percent, James Blackmon Jr. is shooting 40.5 percent and Robert Johnson is at 40 percent beyond the arc.
It is likely that when Indiana has the ball on offense, they will try and get one of the three open through a screen to possibly try and create mismatches. Wisconsin will need to do a good job of communicating on the floor and working through the screens. If there is any sort of poor communication, it will allow the Hoosiers offense to create favorable mismatches. Iowa was able to do that against Wisconsin Saturday, as Kaminsky at times defended guard Mike Gesell. If Indiana can effectively cause Wisconsin’s defenders to switch off their primary man, it will create other possible open shot opportunities besides the three.
One area Wisconsin has done so well over the last three games is limiting second-chance opportunities. Over the last three games the Badgers are giving up an average of just eight offensive rebounds, impressive considering they twice faced an Iowa team that leads the conference in offensive rebounds. Indiana on the season is averaging 11.8 offensive rebounds, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten.
If Wisconsin can continue that same type of production and limit Indiana’s transition opportunities, they should be able to slow the most explosive part of the Hoosiers’ offense - the 3-point shot.
3-pointer: Wisconsin’s defense vs. Indiana’s offense
Since starting Big Ten play, Wisconsin’s defense is allowing holding opponents to 60.5 points a game, which is five points above its season average of 55.5 points a game that ranks first in the Big Ten. Even so, Wisconsin hasn’t seen an offense as statistically as good as Indiana’s, which averages a league-best 80.3 points a game (14th in the NCAA).
In conference play, the Hoosiers are averaging 71.4 points a game and have three players averaging in double figures overall (Blackmon at 16.5, Ferrell at 16 and Troy Williams at 13 points per game).
Having faced four teams ranked in the top five of scoring defense in the Big Ten, Indiana, in three of those four contests, has been able to score above what its opponent is allowing in scoring defense by an average of 8.2 points a game. The only team to be able to hold Indiana below its scoring average was Michigan State, which held the Hoosiers to a season-low 50 points and Indiana’s three leading scorers to a combined 25 points.
One of the biggest transformations on Indiana has come from Ferrell. Early in Ferrell’s career, the likely game plan was to make sure Ferrell settled for perimeter shots and not allow him to drive to the basket. As his career has progressed, Ferrell has been able to develop his shot and his 3-point percentage has increased each year.
Josh Gasser will draw the assignment of defending Ferrell and will have to decide how he wants to try and defend him. If he gives him space, Ferrell can either settle for a shot from the perimeter or have room to possibly drive. If Gasser tries to pressure him, Ferrell is still strong enough to drive to the hoop and draw fouls. Either way Gasser will have to be careful and make sure he receives help from his teammates in helping defend the dangerous Ferrell.
One thing where Gasser may have success is causing Ferrell into a miscue. Ferrell has committed at least one turnover in every Big Ten game and has a total of 13 turnovers in Big Ten play. As a team Wisconsin is averaging five steals a game, and with the length the Badgers possess, they should be able to cut off any passing lanes the Hoosiers offense may have.
If Gasser can force Ferrell to give the ball up on an offensive possession, the rest of the defense will have to be ready for Blackmon, as the dangerous freshman has scored at least 20 points in three of the past five games and is shooting 43.3 percent from the floor on about 13 attempts a game. Bronson Koenig will need to be ready for the tough matchup. Koenig has been a solid defender for Wisconsin this season but needs to be able to make sure Blackmon can’t get off many easy shot attempts. If Koenig can help disrupt the rhythm of Blackmon he has done his job well on the defensive side of the floor.