It’s something most of us thought wouldn’t happen this season. A home loss by Indiana. Wisconsin did more than just hang around. They dictated tempo from the very start of the game, and never allowed Indiana to hit the gas pedal. When tough shots were needed, Wisconsin found a way to make them. And in a league where six teams are ranked in the top 25, one that isn’t is sitting atop the Big Ten in mid-January. Wisconsin 64, Indiana 59. Here’s what went wrong:
A breach in the Hulls
It was a rough night to say the least for Jordan Hulls. He’d finish the game with four points in 32 minutes, making just two field goals in eight attempts. He’d only attempt one three pointer, and miss it. He also did not make it to the free throw line during the game. While dishing out three assists, he’d pick up three turnovers as well. If you were in Assembly Hall, or likely watching the game on TV, that number felt like more.
There was a timidity at times from his game. Whether it was an ill-advised pass or an inability to pull the trigger. And credit Wisconsin for clinging to him around the three-point line. They did not leave him the way most teams do in a scramble scenario. There are always defensive concerns with his game, usually those are mitigated by outstanding offensive play. That was not the case against Wisconsin
Zeller from sixty to zero in one half
Cody Zeller was the offense in the first half. He looked every bit the player of the year candidate and potential lottery selection that so many expect. He went a perfect eight-of-eight from the floor, and most baskets were easy finishes at the rim.
In the second half, it all went away. Zeller would finish with 23 points for the game after going just one-of-seven in the second frame. In the first half, shots were taken primarily off the bounce, and attacking the basket. In the second half, most shots were turnaround looks or even putbacks that simply would not fall. It’s had to say a guy that finished with a double-double and/or 20 and 10 performance had a bad night. He just had no one else to help him pick up the slack after halftime.
Bench bombs for second straight game
One of Indiana’s biggest weapons going into the season and in non-conference play was its depth. I can hear the words of Tom Crean talking about having seven or eight starters. For the last two games, they’ve had the five guys to start the game and that’s about it. After the bench contributed no field goals and three points on Saturday, the bench offensive contribution was one Jeremy Hollowell lay-in in the first half.
The bench totaled two points in 42 minutes spread amongst four players. Will Sheehey went missed all four shots taken, with Remy Abell missing his two attempts as well. Hanner Mosquera-Perea played just three minutes, and after he was beaten for an easy first half basket by Jared Berggren, he’d play only another two minutes on the night.
Each starter played at least 28 minutes on the night. Zeller played the most at 35. That will take its toll on this team when March rolls around. Sheehey was virtually a lock to score double-figures in non-conference play. He scored 13 against Iowa, and has only managed eight points in the three games since. Abell’s offense has always been streaky compared to his defense, and any points from Hollowell or Perea now seem like a bonus. You wonder at this point will this continue to hamstring this team for the rest of the season.
Give credit where it’s due: Wisconsin can play and Bo can coach
The Badgers had fallen off of the radar of many after losing four times in non-conference play. Those losses were all to quality teams: Florida, Creighton, Marquette, and Virginia. Their wins were mostly against nondescript competition until the last four days. They throttled Illinois by 23 on Saturday, then hand Indiana their first home loss of the season. There’s nothing sexy you point to on the box score, as they made 45 percent from the floor, and 32 percent from three-point range. They got outrebounded by nine, including being held to seven offensive boards.
But here’s some numbers to hammer home: They got 16 points and four three-pointers off of their bench. Two of those came from Frank Kaminsky, who got poked in the eye and didn’t return to the game in the second half. They turned the ball over eight times for the game. And they allowed Indiana three fast break points on the night. Which was a major reason why Indiana was held 28 points below their average per game.
Here’s two more numbers to chew on: They never trailed in the final 14:34. And the Hoosiers have now lost 11 in a row to Wisconsin. Bo Ryan has never lost to Tom Crean while the two rivals have been coaches in the Big Ten.
The two started their D1 head coaching careers next door to each other in Milwaukee. Bo was at UW-Milwaukee for two years before moving on to Madison, those were Tom’s first two years in Marquette. It’s pretty evident there’s not much in terms of friendliness between the two. That was one fast post-game handshake.
Indiana will not run the table in the Big Ten, which I don’t think anyone expected. But many, including me, thought they’d finish unscathed at home. Much as was the case after the previous loss to Butler, Indiana should quickly regain its footing with games at Northwestern and at home to Penn State. Good news or bad news depending on your perspective: Indiana does not play at Wisconsin this year. If they play again, it’ll be in the Big Ten and/or NCAA tournament.
Did Wisconsin expose a way to beat Indiana? Perhaps, but so few teams play like Wisconsin, and are dedicated to playing at that tempo, that I’m not sure this will be a blueprint that can be replicated by others.
What sticks with me and the loss to Butler is that this is often how games are played in the postseason, much more oriented towards the half court. With expectations by those inside and outside of the program to play into April and not just March, playing this style of game is something the Hoosiers must master before NCAA tournament time.