#25 Wisconsin vs. #17 Indiana: Thursday's Preview

    
January 26th, 2012

After dropping three straight Big Ten games #25 Wisconsin (16-5, 5-3) has won four straight games, but they face quite the challenge at the Kohl Center as #17 Indiana (16-4, 4-4) visits in a pivotal Big Ten battle. The leaders in the conference (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State) are all 6-2, meaning that the Hoosiers can ill-afford to fall three games back in the loss column if they're to remain a factor in the title race. Tom Crean's squad ended a three-game losing streak with a win over Penn State, but the Badgers have won eight straight in this series and Indiana has never won in the Kohl Center. 

Clearly the focus for Indiana defensively will be senior point guard Jordan Taylor (14.1 ppg, 4.4 apg), who has turned the ball over just one time in the last three games. Taylor's shooting numbers have dropped some when compared to last season but it's also important to point out that there's no Jon Leuer or Keaton Nankivil, and this played a part in both his and the Badgers's struggles earlier in conference play. Jared Berggren (11.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Ryan Evans (9.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg) are two players Bo Ryan needs to play well on a consistent basis, and hopefully Berggren's 18 points in the win at Illinois is a step in the right direction (he'd gone five straight games without reaching double figures before that performance). 

Indiana will need to defend the three if they're to have a shot at leaving Kohl with a win, because even though the Hoosiers are the superior shooting team percentage-wise the Badgers get 35.9% of their offense from the shot. In addition to the aformentioned forwards and Taylor, Wisconsin calls on guards Josh Gasser and Ben Brust from production from deep, and the number of players who can shoot from deep can be an issue for opponents. But Indiana is versatile as well, and their most important defensive player will likely draw the task of guarding Taylor.

Victor Oladipo (10.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) has improved skill-wise from last season and he's also one of the Big Ten's best on-ball defenders. Indiana can call on multiple options to guard perimeter players but Oladipo is their best options. Jordan Hulls and Verdell Jones III are the other starters and the return of wing Will Sheehey has added another perimeter player capable of scoring in double figures. As a team the Hoosiers shoot 44.9% from three and assist on 53% of their made baskets, and they've been the more efficient team of the two on the offensive end of the floor. But they need to remember to throw the ball inside to freshman Cody Zeller, who has changed the dynamic of this team in his first season on campus.

Zeller (15.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) gives Indiana a reliable interior scorer, something they didn't have last season, and his presence allows Christian Watford to play more on the perimeter. Watford (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), who hit the game-winner against Kentucky back in December, is more comfortable outside of the paint but he has to avoid the tendency to sometimes drift out of the action. Rebounding numbers are similar except for the fact that Indiana opponents have grabbed an average of 11.9 offensive boards per game, and with the long rebounds that result from perimeter shots this is an area that could be of concern against Wisconsin. Indiana will need to make sure they aren't hurt in this area and also find a way to force turnovers if they're to win in Madison. But that's a task far easier said than done.

Also of note tonight is NC State visiting #7 North Carolina, with the Tar Heels playing without the injured Dexter Strickland (torn ACL) for the first time this season. Reggie Bullock moves into the starting lineup and P.J. Hairston will also see more minutes as a result, but the question for Carolina is how much of a drop will there be on the defensive end? Strickland was their best perimeter defender, and his absence could mean that Tyler Zeller and John Henson are called on more from a shot-blocking standpoint if the guards can't keep opponents out of the lane. And with the much-improved Wolfpack featuring a guard in Lorenzo Brown who is capable of doing just that, this should be an interesting matchup. If Mark Gottfried's team is to win they have to hold their own in the paint.  

The NEC features a rematch of last year's tournament title game as LIU Brooklyn visits Robert Morris, and with the Blackbirds holding a two-game lead on the rest of the conference this could be the Colonials' last stand. RMU guard Velton Jones has been one of the best guards in the NEC but in order to win it will be the play of their frontcourt that is just as important. Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere have been the best frontcourt tandem in the NEC for Jim Ferry's Blackbirds, and it can be argued that this duo is underrated nationally as well. Also keep an eye on Saint Mary's visiting Loyola Marymount in the WCC, as the Lions have been playing well and with a 5-2 league record a win over the Gaels would vault them right into the discussion for the regular season title (they've already won at BYU). 

Florida's trip to Ole Miss has the potential to be a dangerous one as the Rebels are a tough out in Oxford, and the Horizon League battle between Butler and Milwaukee is huge in regard to that race. Cleveland State and Valparaiso are tied for first place but the Bulldogs and Panthers are part of the three-team group just a game out, and the recent play of Roosevelt Jones is one reason why Butler remains in contention. Guard Kaylon Williams leads the way for Rob Jeter's team in scoring and assists (also third on the team in rebounding), and his matchup with Ronald Nored should be fun to watch given Nored's defensive ability. 

Top 25 Games
7:00 PM North Carolina State at (8) North Carolina (ESPN)
7:00 PM (13) Florida at Ole Miss (ESPN2)
9:00 PM (17) Indiana at (25) Wisconsin (ESPN2)
10:00 PM (20) Saint Mary's at Loyola Marymount 
9:00 PM Boston College at (21) Virginia (ESPNU)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Davidson at Chattanooga
7:00 PM Monmouth at Central Connecticut State (CPTV)
7:00 PM Tennessee Tech at Eastern Kentucky
7:00 PM Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic (FCS)
7:00 PM Campbell at Gardner-Webb
7:00 PM Nebraska at Iowa (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Navy at Lehigh
7:00 PM Fresno State at Louisiana Tech (ESPN3)
7:00 PM High Point at UNC-Asheville
7:00 PM Appalachian State at UNC Greensboro
7:00 PM South Dakota State at Oakland
7:00 PM Coastal Carolina at Presbyterian
7:00 PM Mount St. Mary's at Quinnipiac
7:00 PM VMI at Radford
7:00 PM St. Peter's at Rider (ESPN3)
7:00 PM LIU Brooklyn at Robert Morris
7:00 PM Wagner at Sacred Heart
7:00 PM St. Francis (NY) at Saint Francis (PA)
7:00 PM Wofford at Citadel
7:00 PM Elon at Western Carolina
7:00 PM Liberty at Winthrop
7:00 PM Fairleigh Dickinson at Bryant
7:00 PM North Dakota State at IPFW
8:00 PM Eastern Illinois at Jacksonville State
8:00 PM N.J.I.T. at North Dakota (FCS)
8:00 PM Furman at Charleston (ESPN3)
8:00 PM William & Mary at James Madison
8:00 PM Butler at Milwaukee (ESPN3)
8:00 PM South Alabama at Arkansas-Little Rock
8:00 PM Troy at Middle Tennessee (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Georgia Southern at Samford (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Austin Peay at Southeast Missouri State
8:00 PM Tennessee State at Tennessee-Martin
8:00 PM Valparaiso at Green Bay (ESPN3)
8:05 PM South Dakota at Oral Roberts (FCS)
8:30 PM Washington at Arizona State (ROOT)
8:30 PM Arkansas State at Denver
9:00 PM Nevada at New Mexico State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM UMKC at Southern Utah
9:05 PM Northern Colorado at Idaho State
9:05 PM Hawaii at Utah State (ESPN3)
9:05 PM Montana at Eastern Washington
9:05 PM Chicago State at Utah Valley
10:00 PM Long Beach State at UC Riverside
10:00 PM Cal Poly at Pacific
10:00 PM Pepperdine at San Diego
10:00 PM UC Santa Barbara at UC Davis
10:00 PM San Francisco at Santa Clara (CSN CA)
10:05 PM Weber State at Sacramento State
10:05 PM San Jose State at Idaho
10:05 PM Cal State Fullerton at Cal State Northridge
10:05 PM Montana State at Portland State
10:30 PM Washington State at Arizona (FSN)
10:30 PM Utah at UCLA (FCS)
10:30 PM Colorado at USC
11:00 PM Gonzaga at Portland (ESPN2)