Wisconsin was able to get Big Ten play started off on the right foot by taking care of business against Rutgers on Tuesday. The real test for the Badgers now is beating good teams away from home, as Wisconsin will have a more difficult test playing No.16 Indiana in Bloomington on Tuesday night.
Over Wisconsin’s current eight game winning streak, the Badgers have faced no teams currently ranked in the top 25 and played one road game against Marquette. Entering an environment that is expected to be raucous inside Assembly Hall, where the Hoosiers have won 26 of their last 27, the Badgers will need to be ready to face a Hoosier team that has two top 10 wins (Kansas and North Carolina) but is on a two game losing streak (Nebraska, vs. No.6 Louisville).
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Indiana (10-4, 0-1).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN DEVELOP AN OFFENSIVE RHYTHM?
Indiana has shown to be one of the tougher defensive teams in the Big Ten this season, holding teams to 68.3 points per game, 39.6 percent shooting and 29.4 percent from three. Simply put Wisconsin’s offense can’t afford to have an off night shooting the basketball if they want to keep up with an Indiana offense that averages 86.5 points per game. Wisconsin struggled to shoot in the early goings of the season but fixed the issue when it was able to establish the post, which has led to other scoring opportunities.
In particular Wisconsin was settling for 3-pointers too early in the season. There were three instances over Wisconsin’s first five games where the Badgers shot 28 percent or less from distance. With the movement of the ball improving, it has allowed Wisconsin to consistently work for the best shot on offense and have forced opposing defenses to play deep into the shot clock. The result is Wisconsin is shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three over the last eight games.
The Badgers are going to have stick to their game plan and find ways of allowing Ethan Happ to be productive around the rim. Happ simply has been phenomenal since Wisconsin has returned from Maui. Outside the Rutgers game (40 percent from the field on 4-for-10 shooting), he hasn’t shot worse than 62.5 percent from the field and hasn’t missed more than four shots in a game. In his two matchups against Indiana last year, Happ averaged 17.5 points (including a season-high 25 points in the second matchup) and shot an average 68.1 percent on 11 attempts.
Happ should be able to find success against the Hoosiers’ frontcourt, which allows 31.2 points in the paint. Over the last eight games Wisconsin has averaged 35 points down low. If Happ can be aggressive when he attacks the interior of Indiana’s defense, it should open up opportunities for one of his teammates to get an open shot off, making it important for Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig or Zak Showalter to take advantage.
With Happ always a potential target for a double team, Showalter has succeed in the opportunity to knock down open shots. Over the last four games he’s averaged 12.5 points per game on 60.7 percent shooting on an average of seven shot attempts a game.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: CAN WISCONSIN CONSISTENTLY FORCE INDIANA INTO TURNOVERS?
Wisconsin has posted a plus-1.4 turnover margin against its opponents, forcing an average of 13.1 miscues a game. The Badgers have bumped that number up to 14.8 turnovers a game over the last eight games and have forced at least 15 turnovers in six of those wins.
That could be bad news for an Indiana team averaging 15.9 turnovers a game, including committing 19 turnovers in the loss to Nebraska and 14 turnovers against Louisville. Indiana has been hurt by having three players average at least two turnovers a game (James Blackmon, Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson), as their miscues have played a role into teams scoring 15.9 points off Indiana turnovers and 6.7 fast-break points.
Wisconsin doesn’t consistently look to push the basketball (5.1 fast break points a game) but the Badgers have been opportunistic by scoring 16.8 points off team turnovers.
If Wisconsin is going to disrupt Indiana’s offensive rhythm, the Badgers’ backcourt will need to force Robert Johnson (13.8 points per game) into mistakes, as there have been only three games this year where Johnson has committed one turnover compared to the 2.4 assists he averages. Wisconsin forces the majority of its turnovers by being active with its hands, as the Badgers’ seven steals per game is second in the Big Ten.
The combination of Happ (23 steals) and Showalter (23 steals) have contributed most of Wisconsin’s 98 steals this season, but the two need to be careful of foul trouble. With the pair capable of making their assignments uncomfortable, not having them on the floor makes Wisconsin susceptible to paint touches, driving lanes and getting off clean looks at the rim.
3-POINTER: LIMITING SECOND CHANCES
One of the more interesting matchups against Indiana will be the battle on the glass. In particular, can Wisconsin prevent second chance opportunities for an offense that shoots 49.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three?
Wisconsin has done well of limiting teams to one shot per possession considering only four teams have registered at least 10 offensive rebounds through 14 games. Indiana has had success generating second chance opportunities, second in the league with 14.1 offensive rebounds a game. Indiana’s potent scoring offense allows them to convert its second chances into an average of 16.3 points.
On the flip side Wisconsin has allowed 7.1 points off of the limited second chances teams have generated against them. With Indiana being such a strong shooting team, Wisconsin can’t afford to give Indiana multiple opportunities in a possession. In particular the Badgers will need to be ready to defend Blackmon, who ranks in the top five in the league with 17.3 points per game. It will be a team effort from Wisconsin’s backcourt to slow someone shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from three. Expect to see Showalter (3.4 steals over the last five games) or Hayes with his length defend Blackmon against Indiana’s three guard lineup.
Wisconsin will also need to make sure the Hoosiers backcourt can’t get the ball down low to either OG Anunoby (12.2 ppg) or Thomas Bryant (12.1 ppg), as both shoot above 50 percent from the field. Bryant has been one of the reason why Indiana has been so successful on the offensive glass, leading the team with 35 offensive rebounds. If Wisconsin can’t consistently box Bryant out (or even Juwan Morgan and his 32 offensive rebounds), the Badgers will be stuck playing prolonged defense. Like Wisconsin’s Hayes, Bryant is a good passer (22 assists on the season) who has opened opportunities for his teammates to average 37.4 points in the paint.