The #25 Wisconsin Badgers (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) will attempt to keep their winning streak alive against the #17 Indiana Hoosiers (16-4, 4-4 Big Ten) at home tonight, but will bring in a tough test for their top-rated defense as the Hoosiers have vaulted back into the elite levels of NCAA basketball on the back of a high-scoring, high shooting percentage offense.
After being snubbed in Madison for nearly a decade and a half, there’s no question that Indiana has its sights set on retribution tonight, but will have to find a way to get their potent offense going in the face of a defense that is allowing a miniscule 49.6 points per game. While Indiana has become a great story on the road to reemergence as a top team in college basketball, there are signs that the luster is beginning to fade, as the Hoosiers have lost three of their last four games, and have struggled away from home court especially against strong and/or ranked opponents. For the first key to Indiana’s success tonight, it’s all about maintaining their high shooting percentage, ranked 5th in the nation at exactly 50 percent behind the leading effort of freshman standout forward Cody Zeller (%65.9 percent from the floor, 15.1 points, 6.4 rebounds/game).
The most glaring difference for Indiana in their recent string of poor form has been the lack of efficiency from junior forward Christian Watford (12.6 points, 5.8 rebounds/game), who has failed to shoot better than %37.5 percent in the last 5 games, and is showing signs of fatigue down the stretch. Despite playing a huge role in games against top ranked opponents during the middle of the season, scoring north of 20 points against the likes of Kentucky (20 points), Michigan State (26) and Michigan (25), Watford has failed to reach double figures in two of his last 4 games. Without a big step-up in performance from Watford against a very stingy Wisconsin defense, Indiana will be faced with a ton of pressure mounted on the young Cody Zeller to carry the scoring load this evening. Though Watford is certainly a key performer who has to step it up tonight, the onus will also be on junior guard Jordan Hulls (12.4 points, 3.4 assists/game) who hasn’t shot better than %37.5 percent either in his last 3 games despite an overall %50.6 clip for the year, as well as Victor Oladipo (10.5 points, 5.2 rebounds) who has only scored in double digits once in the last 6 games. Indiana has relied on strong shooting to get them past top teams in the NCAA this season, but without these three guys stepping up their game, Wisconsin may have an easy time locking down on defense for the win.
On the Wisconsin side of the ball, holding the Indiana offense to poor shooting will be essential for them to pull out another win in Madison, and if they can limit Indiana to anywhere close to the 35.9 percent shooting they’re holding opponents to this year (lowest in the nation), the Badgers certainly will have the upper hand in a defensive battle tonight. While the Badgers themselves suffered a poor run of form recently, losing 3 straight games between December 31st and January 8th, they’ve also run off 4 straight victories in which no opponent has scored more than 63 points, and they’re allowing only 42.2 points per game in 12 wins on home court. However, it’s very interesting to note when looking down the Badger schedule that they’ve yet to beat a ranked team at home this year (losing to then-#16 Marquette, and then-#11 Michigan State) and are just 1-4 against ranked opponents overall. That usually points to the lack of offense the Badgers have been able to muster in those games, and for Wisconsin to prevail it’s going to be imperative to get leading scorer Jordan Taylor (14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists/game) playing consistent ball throughout the 40 minutes, as Wisconsin doesn’t have much in the way of scoring depth behind him. Big man Jared Berggren (11 points, 5 rebounds/game) is the only other Badger in double digits in scoring, so to have success, both these guys are going to have to turn in solid shooting nights against a pretty stout Indiana defense, and Berggren especially is going to have to find a way to shut down or at least limit the contributions in the paint made by Indiana’s Cody Zeller.
Betting Lines for Indiana vs. Wisconsin at Intertops Sportsbook
With Wisconsin not yielding a win to the Indiana Hoosiers in Madison since 1998, there is a big hurdle for the Indiana Hoosier to get over tonight, and many questions have risen as to whether IU can weather the storm of the last part of the season, or if they will simply fade away into Big Ten obscurity and miss out on another NCAA tournament. The bookmakers at Intertops certainly don’t have any faith in them being able to overcome a tough home side in Wisconsin, as the Badgers are -370 favorites to win on the money line, while Indiana comes in as +295 underdogs. What really stands out is the fact that despite Wisconsin’s inability to score well against ranked opponents, they are still listed as an 8 point favorite (-110 odds), and as such Indiana has a comfortable cushion against the spread for underdog pickers at +8 points. Also interesting is the over/under for tonight’s game, which stands at 126 points, which certainly accounts for the expected lockdown defensive style both these two teams will engage in. Both sides are very adept at holding the opposition to low percentage shots, and with a slow tempo likely initiated by the home side Badgers, the under total points could be the best way to go in this gritty Big Ten match-up tonight.
Our Pick to Win:
While Wisconsin has been outstanding on home court against lesser opponents this year, they have yet to prove they can take down a ranked opponent via their defense alone, and as such will need a good scoring effort combined with their usual solid defense tonight against Indiana in order to prevail with a victory. Though Indiana has had a year filled with potential, as they’ve knocked off the #1 and #2 teams in the nation, they are showing signs of regressing to the average and now find themselves in a must-win situation to avoid a 5th conference loss on the season. In a game that likely comes down to the final minutes of play as scoring will be at a premium, the Badgers definitely have the upper hand at home, but it will be essential for them to stay strong against perimeter shooting to avoid letting Indiana squeak out a win. With 8 points against the spread working for them, Indiana is a great pick as an underdog in that regard, but could find themselves frustrated near the end of the game as Wisconsin continuously applies pressure on each and every shot. Look for the Badgers to nab win number 11 in a row over the Hoosiers, albeit in an exciting and close 67-64 victory for the home team.