Getting ready to play its first road game since December 2, Wisconsin make its first trip to Assembly Hall since January 2014 to take on an Indiana offense that has caught fire, winning its past seven games and five by double digits. Winning their first two Big Ten games on the road over Rutgers and Nebraska, Indiana has done it without second leading scorer James Blackmon (15.8 ppg), who has missed the last two games with a knee injury.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (9-6, 1-1 Big Ten) in order to pick up its second true road win of the season against a high scoring Indiana (12-3, 2-0 Big Ten) team on Tuesday.
Lay up: Can Wisconsin’s offense have an encore performance?
For a second straight game Wisconsin’s offense will face a team whose defense ranks in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring (11th at 70.1 ppg) and field goal percentage (12th at 43.4 percent). Rutgers ranked 13th in both categories and the Badgers’ offense was able to establish control for the better part of the game on Saturday. UW shot above 50 percent from the field in both halves for the third time this season and posted its best overall shooting performance (53.4 percent) since the win against Siena (58.5 percent).
Wisconsin’s offense has been inconsistent all season, but the Badgers have delivered better spacing and ball movement under head coach Greg Gard, as UW’s has averaged 12.6 assists during his short tenure. The spacing has led to more open shots and more high percentage shots, with the only hiccup being a 38.6 shooting percentage against Purdue’s height, length and experience. Wisconsin has shot 47.1 percent from the field on an average of 56.6 shot attempts over the last three games, delivering two games shooting better than 49 percent.
Wisconsin continuing that trend against Indiana’s defense will be critical, especially on the road, and UW will have to generate second-chance points against a team allowing 12.1 offensive rebounds per game. If Wisconsin comes away empty handed, Indiana’s transition offense will take advantage. The Hoosiers are shooting 43.6 percent from the field in two conference games but that came against Rutgers and Nebraska, which ranks 10th and 11th in the conference, respectively, in field goal percentage.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin win the turnover battle?
Wisconsin’s defense has been good creating turnovers the last five games, averaging 12.4 takeaways to up its season average to 11.5. Wisconsin will have a great chance to extend the streak to six games with Indiana’s offense averaging 15.1 turnovers a game, which is the most in the Big Ten.
Committing at least nine turnovers in every game this season, Indiana committed 23 turnovers against Rutgers and 14 against Nebraska. In particular Troy Williams (49 turnovers) and Yogi Ferrell (41) have struggled in this category.
The Badgers have registered at least five steals over the last five games and Indiana has had the ball stolen an average of 6.9 steals per game. Although Zak Showalter leads the team in steals (17), Ethan Happ has started to become better defensively, having registered at least one steal over the last eight games.
Despite Indiana high turnover rate, the Hoosiers defense has forced opponents into 14.9 turnovers a game. Wisconsin is averaging 11.4 turnovers a game but have started to take better care of the basketball since making 26 turnovers against Green Bay, committing an average of eight turnovers in conference play.
Wisconsin will need to be consistently crisp with its passes, as any lazy pass could lead to a possible steal against an Indiana squad that leads the Big Ten with 7.7 steals a game and likes to make plays in transition. Williams and Ferrell lead Indiana with 1.7 and 1.1 steals a game, respectively, so Wisconsin will have to be smart with its decision making.
3-pointer: Slowing the Hoosiers offense down
This will be a good measuring stick for Wisconsin’s defense, as the Hoosiers are one of the most dangerous offenses in the country. Indiana is one of 14 teams in the country to shoot above 50 percent from the field, as its 53.4 percent shooting ranks second in the N.C.A.A. and the 45.1 3-point shooting is fourth in the nation. Not surprisingly, Indiana ranks fourth in the N.C.A.A. in scoring at 87.7 points a game.
It didn’t go so well the first time Wisconsin played an opponent that demonstrated the ability to score at such a high rate, as Oklahoma scored in a variety of fashions and took control of the game early.
Despite Indiana losing Blackmon to an injury, the Hoosiers still have three different players who average double figures. Ferrell averages 16.9 points, Williams scores 13.3 points and talented freshman Thomas Bryant averages 12 points and on 73.1 percent from the field. Wisconsin’s frontcourt will need to mimic the work of Rutgers on Bryant, who held him to three points in six minutes of work by attacking him and drawing fouls.
Not only does Wisconsin have to slow down Bryant, the Badgers will have to be ready for Ferrell, who is shooting 39.4 percent from the field, averaging 15.4 points and has two 20-point games against Wisconsin. Bronson Koenig will need to be able to stay in front of Ferrell to prevent him from attacking the basket. Ferrell is a matchup nightmare considering he is shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3-point range on an average of 4.3 attempts per game. Koenig’s on-ball defense and Showalter’s ability to draw charges will be critical to thwarting Ferrell’s rhythm.
And if that wasn’t enough to digest, Indiana averages 12.5 offensive rebounds per game. Thankfully rebounding has been a strength of Wisconsin’s this season. UW allows an average of six offensive rebounds per game. That includes limiting Purdue to eight, which is tied for the fewest offensive rebounds Purdue has collected this year.