It’s no secret that the Badgers have struggled in the Big Ten Tournament the past three years, failing to register a single win. On Friday, Wisconsin will seek to end its streak of three consecutive one-and-done conference tournament appearances when it takes on Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.
Wisconsin (23-8, 12-6 Big Ten), the No. 4 seed in the tournament, will face Indiana (25-7, 11-7 Big Ten), the No. 5 seed, for just the second time this season. The Badgers previously bested the Hoosiers – who reached Friday’s matchup with a 75-58 trouncing of Penn State in the first round of the conference tournament – by a score of 57-50 Jan. 26 at the Kohl Center.
In a tale of two sides of basketball, the best scoring defense in the nation will face off against the best scoring offense in the conference. Wisconsin currently allows opponents on average to score just 51.9 points per game, while Indiana scores an average of 77.5 points per game. Come Friday afternoon, something will have to give.
If the Badgers hope to break their cold streak in the conference tournament they will need another solid game from junior big men Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans. The two combined last time around to hold Indiana’s two leading scorers, freshman Cody Zeller and junior Christian Watford, to a combined 19 points. Berggren displayed an aggressive style of defense rarely seen, swatting five Indiana shots while Evans nearly earned a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Currently, Indiana’s frontcourt duo averages a total of 27.3 points per game, with Zeller and Watford averaging 15.5 and 11.8 points a game, respectively. The Hoosiers also contain an extremely balanced offense, with four players averaging double figures.
Indiana, who currently ranks tops in the conference for 3-point shooting at 43 percent, features six players who shoot over 40 percent. Leading the Hoosiers in three-point prowess is senior Matt Roth, who leads the entire Big Ten with an outrageous 57 percent conversion rate from behind the arc. Complimenting Roth is junior Jordan Hull, who is second in the Big Ten behind his senior classmate with a 3-point accuracy rating of 48 percent. Their success will face a stern test in the Badger defense, which currently holds opponents on average to 27 percent a game from three, good for tops in the nation.
The game could be decided on how the Badgers, not the Hoosiers, shoot from beyond the arc. While Wisconsin beat Indiana in their previous meeting shooting just 4-of-17 from beyond the arc (23 percent) there haven’t been many instances the Badgers have escaped with a win while shooting poorly. In the Badgers’ 23 wins, the team has shot on average 39 percent from deep, compared to 25 percent on average in their eight losses. In games where the Badgers have shot 35 percent or more from three, the team is 18-2 compared to 5-6 in games they shoot below 35 percent.
The Badgers – whose offense ranks in the bottom three of the conference at 63.8 points a game – will look to benefit offensively from the recent emergence of senior Rob Wilson, who came on nicely in the final stretch of Wisconsin’s conference schedule. In the past six games, Wilson has averaged 17 minutes on the floor while contributing six points per contest. Wilson’s recent contributions have been a major shot in the arm for a Badger offense that struggles at times, as the team comes into the tournament on a three-game winning streak. The Badgers will hope Wilson compliments star point guard Jordan Taylor’s offensive production, as the leader of the Badgers puts in a team-best 14.6 points per game.
The winner of Friday afternoon’s game will face either No. 1 seed Michigan State or No. 8 seed Iowa.