The Wisconsin Badgers (19-3, 8-1) will take on the Indiana Hoosiers (15-8, 5-5) in the Kohl Center at 12 p.m. CT on Sunday, with the game being televised on CBS. Wisconsin won the first matchup between the two teams earlier this season, a 75-68 thriller in Assembly Hall.
G: Bronson Koenig (14.1 PPG, 2.2 APG)
G: Zak Showalter (7.1 PPG, 2.1 APG)
F: Nigel Hayes (13.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.1 APG)
F: Vitto Brown (7.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG)
C: Ethan Happ (14.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.8 APG)
G: Josh Newkirk (8.0 PPG, 3.5 APG)
G: Devonte Green (4.1 PPG, 34% 3FG)
G: Robert Johnson (14.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.0 APG)
F: Juwan Morgan (6.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG)
C: Thomas Bryant (13.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
The story recently for Indiana has been the injuries to two of its top four scorers in James Blackmon Jr. (17.6 PPG) and OG Anunoby (11.1 PPG). Anunoby, a highly-touted sophomore, suffered a knee injury in a win over Penn State on January 18th. Then, in a 90-60 collapse at Michigan, Blackmon suffered a lower leg injury. The junior’s presence has been missed – previously thought to be a Big Ten contender, Indiana dropped to 4-5 in conference, losing 68-55 at Northwestern, before bouncing back to .500 in a triple overtime thriller against Penn State. Still, the team is practicing as if Blackmon will be ready to go.
“We don’t know exactly who’s going to be ready to go by that game,” said forward Vitto Brown after practice on Friday. “So we’re kind of preparing as though Blackmon will be playing, though we don’t really know for sure.”
But that doesn’t mean Indiana won’t go to its other weapons. “Other guys have stepped it up in their absences,” said Brown. “Mainly [Robert] Johnson and [Josh] Newkirk – they both are shooting the ball with more confidence and really trying to score more.”
One player that both teams will surely have an eye on, though, is Thomas Bryant, the versatile center that has played the role of anchor for the Hoosiers in what’s proved to be an up-and-down season. Ethan Happ, now a back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Week and recent finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award (recognizing the nation’s top centers), will surely have his hands full – although that hasn’t seemed to slow him recently.
“Within the league, Ethan’s got a challenge every night,” said assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft. “I think guys like Bryant bring out the best in him – he enjoys competing against some of the name brand guys. Every night in the Big Ten you’re seeing a really good player at the post position, and Ethan does a good job of bringing it every single night.”
In terms of season trends, Indiana has had a roller coaster of a ’16-’17, to say the least. In non-conference play, they took down both Kansas (RPI: 3) and North Carolina (RPI: 5), but also lost to IPFW (RPI: 135). Then, they proceeded to start off conference play 1-3, beating only Illinois, before jumping back with three straight wins over Rutgers, Penn State and Michigan State. Their 5-5 conference record puts them in sixth in the Big Ten, but they will still face No. 10 Wisconsin, No. 25 Northwestern, and No. 23 Purdue twice.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has jumped out to their third-best start in the last hundred years, losing to only North Carolina, Creighton and Purdue, all three of which were on the road. Still, the Badgers have overcome adversity as of late – Wisconsin took the rival Golden Gophers to overtime in the Twin Cities before pulling out a 78-76 win, and also needed overtime to beat a last place Rutgers team in Madison Square Garden last weekend.
But this year’s Badgers aren’t a team to shrink in big time situations – in fact, as noted in multiple BTN telecasts, Greg Gard is 31-0 when his team in leading or tied with under five minutes in a game. That staggering statistic, however, doesn’t come without explanation.
“He’s very composed, and he’s like a wily veteran out there in just his second year,” said Krabbenhoft. “I think guys feed off of that. Guys have been in those situations – we’re fortunate to have a senior-led group, and another guy in Ethan who’s been through the battles of the Big Ten already for a year and a half now.”