"We've seen flashes of what [Indiana's] talent can do," Badger assistant coach Greg Gard said. "You hope it doesn't wake up against you."
Indiana has struggled this season. The Hoosiers are 5-7 overall after getting pounded 73-52 at Northwestern in their Big Ten opener. Now, an Indiana squad that is averaging just 61.8 points per game has to deal with Wisconsin, a team that has held its opponents to a mere 57.8 points per game.
The Hoosiers certainly have weapons, led by junior guard Bracey Wright, who is one of the better players in the Big Ten. Indiana is relying on a youthful supporting cast, though, in particular freshmen center D.J. White and freshman forward Robert Vaden, who trail only Wright in scoring at IU. The X-factor is freshman guard A.J. Ratliff, who will command more minutes than his current 19.9 per game as the season progresses.
"It's good to get back home and play in front of our home crowd," White said. "This is an important game because it's important to get a win early in the Big Ten season."
The Hoosiers need a win desperately after getting abused during a non-conference gauntlet. Indiana lost six consecutive games from Dec. 1 through Dec. 22. There is no shame, however, in losing to North Carolina, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Missouri and Charlotte, which have a combined 56-13 record this season. The Tar Heels, Huskies and Wildcats are each ranked in the top ten.
"They've played an extremely tough schedule and they've played teams awful tough," Gard said. "I think some of their youth has shown at times but also at times their talent shows and they really play well. We are going to have our hands full."
The Hoosiers' overall results have not been pretty. Indiana is shooting just 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range. They are last in the Big Ten in assists (11.5 per game), assist-to-turnover ratio (.77) and rebounding margin (-2.8 per game).
"I don't think that really means all that much because we're starting the Big Ten," UW senior guard Clayton Hanson said. "They are going to be hungry coming back playing at home."
Indiana will need a strong performance from White, Vaden and Ratliff in order to take pressure off Wright, who is coming off a 5-turnover, 7-point performance against Northwestern.
"It's important for us to get a post presence early in the ball game against Wisconsin," said White, who is averaging 12.3 points per game and is shooting 57 percent. "It's important to establish the inside to get some pressure off of Bracey. If they get me the ball, I'm just trying to put it into the basket."
Starting point guard junior Marshall Strickland must improve in a hurry if Indiana has any hope of being competitive in the Big Ten. Strickland is shooting 34 percent and has more turnovers (35) than assists (34). He was benched in the second half Wednesday in Evanston, Ill.
The Hoosiers are seemingly in disarray but the Badgers are far from taking them lightly.
"They are a dangerous team if they're clicking," Hanson said. "We just have to do the best we can to make sure they're not."
What: Wisconsin (10-2 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) at Indiana (5-7, 0-1)
When: Saturday, January 8 at 7 p.m. Central
Where: Assembly Hall (17,456), Bloomington, Ind.
Broadcasts: The game will be televised by ESPN Plus (WISC-TV in Madison). It can be also heard live on the Wisconsin Radio Network (WIBA 1310 AM/101.5 FM)
Series Notes: Indiana leads the all-time series 91-53, including a 50-22 edge in Bloomington. Wisconsin, however, has won the last four games, its longest winning streak in the series since 1944-49. The Badgers won the teams' two meetings last season by a combined 52 points.