Heading into the final conference game of the year at Indiana Saturday, the fate of the Wisconsin men’s basketball team remains uncertain after Illinois’ 81-79 victory at Purdue Wednesday night.
In the Illini’s overtime thriller, junior guard Luther Head converted the winning basket as he was falling to ground with .9 seconds remaining.
Illinois’ dramatic victory leaves it at 12-3 in the Big Ten, while the Badgers currently stand at 11-4 after a heart-stopping win over Michigan State Tuesday. In addition to a win over Indiana, the Badgers need Illinois to lose on the road against Ohio State Sunday in order for Wisconsin to earn a share of a third consecutive conference title.
Looking to remain in contention for the Big Ten crown, Wisconsin will travel to Assembly Hall to take on a struggling Indiana team.
These are not the Indiana Hoosiers of old. Bobby Knight, the controversial and intimidating coach who headed the Hoosiers for more than 25 years, was forced out of Bloomington almost four years ago.
Mike Davis, Indiana’s current man at the helm, began his coaching career with much success. In 2002 Davis brought his team to the NCAA championship game, and he has guided his Hoosiers to three straight NCAA tournament appearances.
However, his team’s fortunes have drastically changed this year. The Hoosiers are in serious danger of failing to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years.
Indiana has already played spoiler once this year, dashing Michigan’s NCAA tournament hopes with a 61-56 victory over the Wolverines at Assembly Hall Wednesday. Before that win, the Hoosiers, who now hold a 13-13 record, stood below .500 — the first time in school history an Indiana squad has had a losing record 25 games into the season.
In their defeat of the Wolverines, the Hoosiers outlasted a relentless Michigan team. The two teams matched each other all night, as neither side led by more than six points at any point in the contest. With the score tied at 56, Indiana guard Marshall Strickland hit a pair of free throws and the Hoosiers never relinquished the lead.
In the victory, Strickland scored a career-high 21 points, outshining Indiana’s leading scorer, guard Bracey Wright. Wright, who scored 14 against Michigan, averages 19.1 points per game, 0.1 points more than UW leading scorer Devin Harris. Aside from Minnesota freshman Kris Humphries, Wright is the only legitimate threat to Harris in the race for the Big Ten Player of the Year award.
Wright has been one of the lone bright spots on a disappointing Hoosier squad. The multi-dimensional shooting guard has scored 22 or more points 11 times this season, including dropping a 29-point performance in an 84-72 loss to Michigan State Jan. 31.
Despite their mediocre record, the Hoosiers (13-13, 7-8) are a dangerous team. Complimenting Strickland and Wright is senior George Leach. The 6-foot-11 senior, who hit two late free throws against Michigan to seal Wednesday’s victory, will look to cause the Badgers problems inside.
Harris recognizes the problems Leach and the Hoosiers present, and the junior standout will have his teammates prepared. To beat the Indiana, Harris and the Badgers will look to “keep Wright uncomfortable and get the big guy (Leach) in foul trouble and don’t let him intimidate us,” Harris said.
With one game remaining in the regular season, Harris and Badgers are confident they can take down Indiana and roll into the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.
“I think we’re starting to hit our main stride,” Harris said. “Everything’s starting to come together.”