INDIANA HOOSIERS (18-14)
vs. WISCONSIN BADGERS (23-8)
Verizon Center – Washington D.C.
Tip-off: Friday, 6:30 pm ET
Line: Wisconsin -4.0, Total: 138.0
Indiana will be hoping to improve its tournament resume with a victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament on Friday.
The Hoosiers have been nothing but a mediocre team since opening the season with some impressive wins over teams like Kansas and North Carolina in the first three weeks of the year. They did, however, turn in one of their most outstanding performances of the year on Thursday, as the Hoosiers absolutely pummeled a solid Iowa team at the Verizon Center. Indiana won 95-73 in that game, shooting 60.3% from the floor and outrebounding Iowa 38-29. Now they’ll face a Wisconsin group that beat them twice during the regular season, but the Badgers are struggling at the wrong time. Wisconsin defeated Minnesota in the final game of the regular season to clinch the two-seed in this tournament, but the Badgers had been miserable before that one. Heading into that matchup with the Gophers, Wisconsin had lost five of its previous six games. If they cannot turn things around fast then they could be heading for an early NCAA tournament exit, which would be a tough outcome for a team that had championship aspirations before the season. Wisconsin has owned this head-to-head series over the years, going 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS versus Indiana over the past three seasons. The Badgers are also an impressive 10-2 ATS after two straight games where they were called for 15 or less fouls this season.
If the Hoosiers are going to beat the Badgers on Friday then they will need to play the same brand of basketball that they did against Iowa on Thursday. Indiana shot the lights out from three, but the team also dug in on the defensive end. The three-ball is the most important shot for this Hoosiers team, and they have a chance to win games as long as they are hitting. That means that somebody like G James Blackmon Jr. (17.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG) will need to catch fire moving forward. The sophomore is one of the most talented scorers in the nation, and he knows that he has a chance to put this team on his shoulders and lead it to the NCAA tournament. Gs Josh Newkirk (9.2 PPG, 3.2 APG, 3.1 RPG) and Robert Johnson (13.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG) must also find their strokes here, as both of them are capable of playing at a high level in this game. Johnson especially will need to play a good game on Friday. He is supposed to be one of the more reliable players for this Indiana team, but he struggled in the second half of the year. Two other guys that will be extremely important are C Thomas Bryant (12.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG) and F Juwan Morgan (7.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG). If the two of them can hold their own against Wisconsin’s elite frontcourt then Indiana just might earn the victory that sends them dancing.
Wisconsin is a team that had all the promise in the world heading into the season, but the Badgers are in a bad way right now. The team returned every single rotation player from a group that was seconds away from going to the Elite Eight a year ago, but the Badgers have regressed mightily. The main issue for this team has been its free throw shooting, as both F Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.9 APG) and C Ethan Happ (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG) are one of the worst duos in the league when getting to the line. The postseason does, however, represent an opportunity to earn a fresh, new percentage from the line. The two of them must reset themselves and find a way to get confident from the stripe. Both players should be capable of leading Wisconsin to a victory in this tournament, and also a deep run in the NCAA tournament as well. They both know how to use their size inside and should create chaos for Indiana on Friday. G Bronson Koenig (14.2 PPG) is another guy that should be able to play well for the Badgers. Koenig battled some leg issues this season, but he is a sniper from the outside and has hit a ton of big shots in his postseason career with the Badgers. The moment will not be too big for him, but he needs to do his best to attack the basket and keep opponents on their heels. Indiana is a weak team defensively, so he should be able to find some holes for himself and his teammates on Friday.