CHICAGO — The unstoppable force meets the immovable object again on Saturday at the Big Ten Tournament, with the immovable object being 1-0 on the season.
Wisconsin, Indiana’s opponent in today’s 1:40 p.m. semifinal, represents the Hoosiers’ diametric opposite and ultimate foil. The Hoosiers want nothing more than to get out in open spaces and run, and with arguably the best transition game in the nation. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has taken stall-ball to an entirely different level. Of the 347 teams in college basketball, just 36 play at a slower pace than the Badgers, who average 62.0 possessions per game.
But that style of play is, of course, effective, and its been a problem for Indiana this year and in previous seasons. It was good enough to beat speedy No. 5 seed Michigan on Friday — though the Badgets shockingly scored 51 points and shot 60.7 percent from the field in the second half after scoring 17 points on 5-for-29 shooting in the first — and it was good enough for the Badgers to go 22-10 this season and finish fourth in the conference.
The Badgers defend well by any measure. They lead the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing just 56.0 points per game. That’s not entirely a product of slow tempo, though, as they rank fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency, allowing just 84.7 points per 100 possessions.
And it seems to work even better against teams that want to run, because Wisconsin’s approach is so antithetical to everything they want to do. The Badgers won both games against Michigan this season, also a good transition team, along with that win over Indiana.
“That kind of showed again tonight,” freshman swingman Sam Dekker said. “Michigan obviously is an uptempo team. They can beat anyone on any given night. That’s kind of what we are like too. We just play our style and we dictate the tempo and don’t let teams really get at us. … We can’t let teams dictate how we play.”
Said senior forward Jared Berggren: “If we take care of the ball, don’t let them get running out in transition, make them defend, use some of the shot clock, make them guard our cuts, move the ball, move bodies, make them work on defense, it makes things a little more difficult on offense when they can’t just get a quick rebound, run out and score. Play at our place is something that works well for us and is gonna be key tomorrow.”
The Badgers have won 11 straight against Indiana with the Hoosiers’ last win coming on Jan. 31, 2007. They were careful to say that streak doesn’t necessarily mean they own the Hoosiers, because most of those wins came while Indiana was in clear rebuilding mode.
“Obviously, they went through a rebuilding phase where they had some new guys in there and a new coach,” Berggren said. “That’s definitely a part of it. The last few matchups we’ve done just enough to come out and find some wins. It’s gonna be a big game again tomorrow. Obviously we’ve had some success against them. We know they’re gonna be hungry to get some revenge on us. It’s gonna come down to who can get it done in 40 minutes. It’s gonna be a battle.”