Indiana and Wisconsin present as stark of a contrast of styles as there is among any two teams in the Big Ten.
Indiana scores more points per game (87.1) than any other team in the conference. Wisconsin allows fewer (54.7) than any other team. Indiana plays at the No. 41 tempo in Division I and the the fastest in the Big Ten, averaging 70.5 possessions per game according to KenPom.com. Wisconsin’s tempo (63.9 possessions per game) ranks 309th in Division I and Nebraska is the only team in the conference that plays slower.
Naturally, something has to give in the unstoppable force vs. immovable object clash, and so the No. 2 Hoosiers’ goal is to play the game at a pace closer to the one they want to play than the one Wisconsin wants to play.
“You’ve gotta try to play at your pace and not necessarily just their pace,” IU assistant coach Tim Buckley said. “We’re gonna play the way we wanna play. … We wanna get out and run, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we want to shoot fast. We want to get the best shot available, but we want to play at a tempo that we want to play at.”
Of course, many have tried to do that, and most have failed.
The Badgers (12-4) have won six straight games heading into Tuesday’s 9 p.m. game with the No. 2 Hoosiers at Assembly Hall. Each of the six teams they beat failed to score as many as 55 points. Even most of their losses have been low-scoring and they haven’t allowed 70 points in a game since a 77-70 win over Arkansas on Nov. 24.
This, of course, is typical of Wisconsin and of Bo Ryan-coached teams in particular. Every year since 2008, the Badgers have been among the slowest teams in Division I, ranking no higher than No. 318 in the country in possessions per game. The biggest reasons, naturally, are the Badgers’ ball-control and defense.
The Hoosiers primary objective is to get their offense through defense, which really means causing turnovers that turn into fast breaks. They can also push the base off rebounds and even off made baskets, but they lead the Big Ten in turnovers created with 16.4 per game.
Wisconsin, though, doesn’t give the ball away. The Badgers are one of the most careful, deliberate teams in college basketball. They give the ball away just 8.9 times per game, a Big Ten-low, and they lead the conference in turnover margin. They also have Division I’s lowest turnover percentage, giving the ball away on just 14.2 percent of their possessions.
“They’re fundamentally sound,” Buckley said. “I think all of their guys play within themselves. You never really see them play too fast, they try to play at their own tempo. And if you watch enough film of Wisconsin, if they turn the ball over, you kind of hear the buzzer, and then somebody else checks in, and so I think that has a little bit to do with it, but I would also venture to guess that that is something that is emphasized tremendously in practice.”
The goal for the Hoosiers, though, is to still get as many takeaways as they can without being overly aggressive and paying the price.
“They’re just dedicated to running their offense and doing what their coach wants them to do,” IU senior guard Jordan Hulls said. “In order for us to do that, we just have to get in the passing lanes and try to create havoc. Just knowing their game plan and knowing their tendencies is really going to benefit us.”
Even if they can get a few turnovers, the Badgers will assuredly still force Indiana into a half-court game most of the time and come at the Hoosiers with an airtight man-to-man defense.
Much of the reason the Badgers allow so few points is simply the limitation of possessions, but they also rank 15th in defensive efficiency in Division I, which obviously adjusts for tempo. The Badgers allow just 86.5 points per 100 possessions.
“I think they do a really good job of making you take challenged, mid-range shots,” Buckley said. “I think when people penetrate the lane, they’re not afraid to switch (Jared) Berggren off on Yogi Ferrell. Then that guy tries to score over the top of 6-11, 7-0, who has great timing, is a great athlete. It’s very difficult to score that way. You can’t force them into making you take those tough shots. You’ve got to try to get the best shot that you can get. You’ve got to move the ball, you’ve got to cut hard, you’ve got to set good screens, all the things you have to do against other teams that are really good defensively.”
Berggren, the 6-foot-11 fifth-year senior, might be the best post-defender in the Big Ten. He leads the league in blocked shots and is also averaging 13.4 points per game.
“He’s intelligent,” Buckley said. “He’s athletic. He has great timing. he really knows how to play, and he’s like the rest of those guys. They play within themselves. They never try to get outside of who they are. ”
And who they are is also a physical team. The Hoosiers know this well. They’ve lost 10 straight to Wisconsin and haven’t beaten the Badgers since 2007. This IU senior class has fallen to the Badgers six times, losing in the Big Ten Tournament to Wisconsin last year.
“They never stop coming, that’s the main thing,” senior forward Christian Watford said. “As the game goes late, they start coming harder and harder. You’ve just gotta keep them off the glass. When they’re not able to get the ball, they’ll tip it out, do anything just to get an extra possession.”
And make sure you get as few as possible.