After putting people on notice with a season-opening victory over No.3 Kansas, misery has become Indiana’s best friend.
Not only are the Hoosiers tied for sixth in conference play and four games back of first place, Indiana has seen key players James Blackmon (leg) and OG Anunoby (right knee) join Collin Hartman (knee surgery) on the indefinite injury list.
Since losing Blackmon and Anunoby, the Hoosiers have gone 2-2 but coming off a triple-overtime win against Penn State Wednesday night. Although the loss of those two have hurt Indiana, the Hoosiers are still capable of scoring. Robert Johnson (14.5 points per game) and Thomas Bryant (13.2 ppg) will challenge Wisconsin’s defense, as the two combined to shoot 7-for-14 in the first matchup.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (19-3, 8-1 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Indiana (15-8, 5-5).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN CREATE EXTRA OFFENSIVE POSSESSIONS?
Wisconsin has shot 40.2 percent from the field on an average of 58 field goal attempts over the last three games. The numbers aren’t great, but the Badgers haven’t struggled with capitalizing on miscues. Over the last three games Wisconsin has averaged 15.6 points off the 15.3 turnovers they have created. Throughout Big Ten play, Wisconsin averages 15.3 points off turnovers. That will likely mean bad news for Indiana.
The Hoosiers rank last in turnover margin at minus-3.7 during conference play. Big Ten teams have forced the Hoosiers into an average of 14.7 miscues a game, which has resulted into 18.1 points. Wisconsin generated 23 points off of 13 Indiana turnovers in the first meeting, a Big Ten-high for the Badgers and the sixth time this season UW scores at least 21 points off team miscues. UW hasn’t scored at least 20 points since that game, but the Hoosiers have allowed four teams to register at least 20 points off their turnovers during conference play.
Wisconsin’s ability to create extra offensive possessions could be determined by how its aggressive defense bothers Johnson. Leading the Hoosiers with 2.4 turnovers, Johnson is coming off eight turnovers against Penn State and has committed at least two turnovers in four of the five games. If Zak Showalter and Bronson Koenig can force Johnson into repeated errors, the Badgers will have opportunities at quality looks to help kick start the offense.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: CONTAINING BRYANT AND JOHNSON
Wisconsin was able to hold Bryant to a Big Ten-low six points on 3-for-5 shooting from the field and three rebounds. The Badgers were successful at making Bryant a non-factor in Bloomington but repeating that feat in the rematch will be difficult.
In the four games since Anunoby’s injury, Bryant has stepped his game up and averaged 19.5 points on 61.2 percent (31-for-49) from the field, including consecutive double-doubles. Wisconsin could use either Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ to defend Bryant in the paint, as both have shown to be strong defenders. Although Hayes is giving up size against Bryant, the senior is a smart defender who doesn’t draw fouls and uses his length to help contest shots.
If Happ is defending Bryant, he’ll need to find a way to cut off passing lanes. Leading the Big Ten in steals (2.7 a contest), Happ has registered a steal in 11 straight games and at least two in eight of those games. Making Bryant uncomfortable will take one scoring threat away from Indiana, but he has shown the ability to find his teammates by ranking fourth on the team with 1.3 assists.
Johnson has scored in double figures in nine straight games and is coming off a season-high 27 points against Penn State on 58.8 percent shooting from the field. Johnson has shown the capability of moving without the ball and the ability to knock down 3-pointers, making one in nine straight games, averaging 2.7 made threes per Big Ten game and shooting 48.2 percent from three during conference play.
Wisconsin has been susceptible against good 3-point shooting teams, having allowed Big Ten opponents to shoot 38.7 percent from three, but the Badgers did hold Indiana to 33.3 percent (5-for-15) shooting. UW needs to consistently contest the shots by Johnson to make sure he can’t get a clean look off.
3-POINTER: PUTTING TOGETHER TWO HALVES
Wisconsin put together two of its most productive shooting halves over Big Ten play against Indiana, shooting 51.6 percent (16-for-31) in the first half and 48 percent (12-for-25) in the second half. Wisconsin hasn’t shot above 51 percent from the field in the first half since that win. In the fact, the Badgers’ best first half of shooting since was 43.9 percent against Ohio State. Overall Wisconsin has shot 37.9 percent (82-for-216) in the first half compared to shooting 48.4 percent (93-for-192) in the second half since the Indiana game.
The Badgers may be shooting a better overall percentage in the second half over Big Ten play, including at least 54 percent from the field in four of the last six games, but the offense has regressed in both halves the last two games. Against Rutgers and Illinois, Wisconsin shot 32.7 percent (19-for-58) in the first half and 36.3 percent (20-for-55) in the second.
Wisconsin hasn’t been settling for poor shots as much as shots simply haven’t been falling. UW will more than likely get its fair share of open looks against the Hoosiers, who are allowing 78.4 points on 46.2 percent shooting and 40.4 percent from 3-point range in Big Ten play.
Happ will play an important role in Wisconsin’s offense of creating second chances and generating high quality looks around the rim. Happ led Wisconsin with 19 points in the first matchup against Indiana, and the Hoosiers have allowed Big Ten opponents to average 32.4 points in the paint (right around UW’s Big Ten average of 32.6 points).
With Indiana likely to crash down on Happ in the paint, Wisconsin will have to get a lift from Koenig from the perimeter. The senior has struggled with his shot over the last two games but has averaged 16.2 points over Wisconsin’s four home Big Ten games on 51.1 percent (23-for-45) from the field and 53.8 percent (14-for-26) from three. Koenig also went a perfect 5-for-5 from distance in the first game against Indiana.
If Koenig and Happ can play a successful inside-outside game, Wisconsin will have a great opportunity to control the game.