Wisconsin, who had started unblemished in Big Ten play by way of besting six teams with a combined conference record of 8-30, faltered in its first legitimate conference matchup, finding few things that worked successfully in its four-point loss at Purdue.
"We fought very hard, no one gave up, we were in it to the very end and put ourselves in that position, both good and bad," UW senior Brian Butch said. "We will continue to fight, no matter the situation."
The Badgers will have plenty more chances to prove their legitimacy to the naysayers, starting with their matchup with No.11 Indiana for first place in the conference tonight at the Kohl Center.
The Hoosiers (17-2, 6-0) themselves are struggling to prove their worthiness to the critics despite their high ranking. Much like Wisconsin, Indiana won its first six conference games by beating up on the bottom half of the Big Ten - teams with an aggregate conference record of 10-27 - and are looking to rebound from a bitter defeat; a five-point loss to Connecticut, snapping Indiana's 13-game winning streak.
The loss was a troubling one for Indiana's freshman Eric Gordon, as UConn held the phenom to 5-of-16 shooting. A tough day at the office has not slowed Gordon, however, as he leads the Big Ten with 21.7 points per contest.
"He's a guy that would have been playing with a stipend the first of the month if it wasn't for the rule change," said UW coach Bo Ryan in reference to the NBA's one-year rule requiring prospects to be one year removed from high school and at least 19 years old in order to be eligible for the draft. "He's going to make a lot of money because he's that good and he's worked hard at it. Eric Gordon is one of those guys that have worked at his game."
All that could change because of an injury suffered on Tuesday. According to the Indianapolis Star, Gordon's father said that his son came down hard going for a rebound in practice on Tuesday and put out his non-shooting hand to break his fall.
"He did injure his wrist, but there's no swelling," Eric Gordon Sr. said, according to the newspaper. "He's going to be able to play. What they'll probably do is put some protective padding on it, and he'll play."
Gordon's father went on to say that his son will likely have to wear the padding for several weeks and if expected to be a 'non-issue.'
Wisconsin (16-3, 6-1) will also have its hands full containing senior D.J. White, who ranks third in the conference with 16.8 points per game. In the team's last meeting, White scored 16 points in a five-point victory at Indiana, breaking UW's 17-game winning streak.
And for whatever reason, the Hoosiers have performed better in hostile environments than in Assembly Hall. Sporting a 4-0 record in ‘true' road contests, the Hoosiers hold their opponents to 26.7 percent shooting from the perimeter and hold a plus-10 rebounding advantage on the road.
Even Gordon and White play better, averaging 20.5 and 16 points, respectively, when not in front of the home crowd.
"That's a surprising statistic when you think about it, especially with how hostile conference environments are," said Butch, who registered his 11th career double-double on the road last Saturday. "We're going to have to prepare very hard because this is going to be a tough game."
But as good as Indiana has been offensively, Wisconsin has been just as sound defensively, leading the conference in scoring defense (54.7) and ranks second in field goal percentage defense (.384). In seven Big Ten games, the Badgers are holding opponents to less than 56 points a game.
"Shooting percentage wise, we've done OK," said Ryan about Wisconsin's defense effort this conference season. "We're getting teams to take tough shots other than a couple put backs against Michigan. Our guys are working. They are still a good defensive team."
But as junior Marcus Landry so eloquently put it, statistics won't mean anything to the Badgers if they fail to execute their game plan against the Hoosiers like the struggles they had at Purdue.
"There were a lot of things in the game that we should have done better and unfortunately, we can't get it back," Landry said. "We just have to see what we did wrong and learn from it. We need to stick to our rules and focus on them. When we get away from the rules, bad things are bound to happen. It hurt us in the end."