Since dropping a road tilt against Marquette on Dec. 8, Wisconsin has been one of the hottest teams in the country, ripping off six straight wins, its longest streak since last January. The Badgers put forth an outstanding all- around effort on Saturday in a 74-51 win over Illinois, and they are now 3-0 in league play for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign.
Indiana has also been red-hot, piling up six consecutive victories following its only loss to the season in mid-December on a neutral floor to Butler (88-86 in OT). The Hoosiers most recently squared off against Minnesota at home in a battle of top-10 teams and came away with an 88-81 win to move to 15-1 overall and 3-0 in conference.
Wisconsin claimed took both meetings with Indiana last season, including a 79-71 decision in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference Tournament, but the Hoosiers still lead the all-time series, 94-65.
Not only did Wisconsin shoot nearly 50 percent from the field on Saturday (including 10-of-23 from 3-point range), but it also held a strong shooting Illinois squad to just 35.3 percent from the floor on its way to an outstanding 23-point victory. The balanced effort was paced by Jared Berggren, who tallied his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Traevon Jackson put up 14 points, Sam Dekker scored 13 points, and Ryan Evans chipped in 10 points in the triumph.
The Badgers have been great at both ends of the court all season long. They shoot 44.6 percent from the field for 70.8 ppg, but their strongest asset is their scoring defense, which ranks in the top-10 nationally in allowing just 54.7 ppg. Berggren nets a team-high 13.4 ppg on 55.2 percent shooting while also adding 6.4 rpg and a league-best 2.1 bpg. Evans (11.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Ben Brust (11.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.1 apg) have also been steady producers, while Dekker adds 9.3 ppg on 41.8 percent 3- point shooting.
Indiana opened up what seemed to be a comfortable 52-29 lead at halftime against Minnesota, and while the Golden Gophers climbed back to make it just a one-possession game in the final minute, the Hoosiers were able to hang on thanks to 50.9 percent field goal shooting and a 26-of-40 effort at the foul line. All five starters scored in double figures for IU, paced by Victor Oladipo with 20 points on 8-of-10 accuracy from the floor. Cody Zeller added 18 points, six rebounds and three blocks in a performance that helped him earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Also having stellar games were Jordan Hulls (19 points), Christian Watford (15 points, nine rebounds), and Kevin Ferrell (13 points, eight assists).
Although Indiana escaped with the seven-point win, it is used to much more lopsided affairs, as it owns a plus-26.6 scoring margin thanks in large part to the nation’s highest-scoring offense (.511 FG percentage, 87.1 ppg). Zeller is one of the best forwards in the country, as he is shooting 63.4 percent from the field for 16.6 ppg, adding 7.8 rpg and 1.4 bpg for good measure. Oladipo (13.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is also incredibly efficient with his shot (.683). Watford (12.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Hulls (11.6 ppg), and Will Sheehey (11.4 ppg) round out perhaps the most balanced scoring attack in the country, while Ferrell (6.6 ppg) hands out the second-most assists in the conference (5.3 apg).
Wisconsin’s defensive effort will have to be on point against the Hoosiers, who have been a high-powered scoring machine all season long. In the end, the Badgers may slow the pace a bit, but Indiana will be too much to overcome, particularly on its home floor.
Predicted Outcome: Indiana 73, Wisconsin 63