Christian Watford knows what’s coming. How could he not? The Indiana senior forward is 0-for-6 against Wisconsin in his career.
“They never stop coming, that’s the main thing,” he said. “As the game goes on, they start coming harder and harder.”
The No. 2 Hoosiers (15-1) get another chance tonight at Assembly Hall against the unranked Badgers (12-4). This will be the only regular season meeting between the two, and sole possession of the Big Ten lead is at stake. Both teams are 3-0 in conference play.
Wisconsin thrives on patient offense, physical defense and an overall rugged approach IU has to match, and then surpass.
“You’ve got to keep them off the glass,” Watford said. “When they’re not able to get the ball, they’ll tip it out, do anything just to get an extra possession.”
The Badgers have beaten Indiana 10 straight times. IU’s last win in the series came in 2007, when Kelvin Sampson was the coach.
This should be an intriguing matchup. The Hoosiers have the nation’s best offense, averaging 87.1 points a game. Wisconsin has the Big Ten’s stingiest defense, allowing 54.7 points.
“I think they do a really good job of making you take challenged, mid-range shots,” associate head coach Tim Buckley said. “I think when people penetrate the lane, they’re not afraid to switch (6-11 forward) Jared Berggren off on (point guard) Yogi Ferrell. Then that guy tries to score over the top of 6-11, 7-footer who has great timing and who 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 is the key. He leads the Big Ten in blocked shots and is also averaging 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 55.2 percent from the field.
“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. ”
Who they are doesn’t include turnovers. They average just 8.9 turnovers a game, the best in the Big Ten. They also lead the nation in turnover percentage, losing the ball on just 14.2 percent of their possessions.
But they haven’t faced a defense like Indiana’s. Led by deflection-machine Victor Oladipo, the Hoosiers will swarm and attack and pressure with their length and athleticism.
“They’re just dedicated to running their offense and doing what their coach wants them to do,” 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 then, it might not be enough.
“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.”
IU has its own practice emphasis and it boils down to this -- Nobody will beat the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall this season.
Should Indiana, rather than Louisville, have made it to the top of the polls this week?
That’s a matter for debate.
It’s possible, if the Hoosiers had blown out No. 8 Minnesota, as they were poised to do at Saturday’s halftime, they might have made the jump from No. 5 all the way back to No. 1.
But they didn’t, and Louisville affirmed its top-ranked status with a tough-minded, comeback victory at Connecticut Monday night.
Anyway, IU (15-1) had a chance after beating Penn State and the Gophers, while No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Arizona all lost last week.
In the end, Louisville got 36 first-place votes in the AP poll to Indiana’s 13. Duke had 14 first-place votes, but not enough overall points to finish third. Fourth-ranked Kansas and fifth-ranked Michigan also received a first-place vote.
It was the same order in the USA Today coaches’ poll, with Louisville No. 1, IU No. 2 and Duke No. 3, Kansas No. 4 and Michigan No. 5. The Cardinals had 18 first-place votes to Indiana’s six and Duke’s seven.
Louisville has Syracuse later this week. If the Cardinals lose, and Indiana can beat Wisconsin and Northwestern, it might regain the No. 1 spot it lost with the overtime defeat to Butler.
It took more than a year, but an Indiana Hoosier finally earned a Big Ten player of the week honor.
Cody Zeller shared the honor with Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas after averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals, 3.0 blocks and 1.5 assists in wins over Penn State and Minnesota.
It’s the first time Zeller has won a Player of the Week award. Last year he won seven Freshman of the Week honors.
The last Hoosier to win Big Ten player of the week honors was Christian Watford on Dec. 12, 2011. That was after he hit a rather big shot to beat Kentucky.