Big Ten Geeks: This was a huge one for Indiana
Indiana picked up a huge victory over previously unbeaten and No. 3 Wisconsin on Tuesday night.
The significance of this win for Indiana cannot be overstated. This is a team that entered the night without a single quality win, a team that would not have made the NCAA tournament had the season ended just before this game.
Now, the Hoosiers have a top-notch win and a clear path to a 9-9 conference record, which would seemingly be enough to make the tournament. There’s still a chance that Indiana is the second coming of last year’s Iowa Hawkeyes, with a weak nonconference schedule and a fairly soft conference slate dooming them to the NIT, but this win makes that fate much less likely.
The home stretch of this game brought some puzzling defensive moves from Indiana, which had lost its last 12 games to Wisconsin. First, with 1:18 remaining and the Hoosiers protecting a four-point lead, Tom Crean took out Noah Vonleh in favor of Austin Etherington. This made no sense at all. Vonleh is arguably Indiana’s best defender, and he had only two fouls. Beyond that, it left the Hoosiers with nobody taller than 6-6 on the floor for a possession where a stop basically locks up the win.
Like clockwork, Wisconsin went straight to Frank Kaminsky on the block, and Etherington fouled him as he scored easily. The three-point play made it a one-point game with 1:08 remaining. Stanford Robinson then made an aggressive move to the basket to put Indiana back up three, and the Hoosiers followed that with another bad defensive possession. This time, Vonleh and Yogi Ferrell switched a screen when they really didn’t have to, and it left Ferrell futilely trying to box out Kaminsky as a Wisconsin three missed. Kaminsky grabbed the rebound and again scored easily.
Fortunately for Indiana, these defensive miscues did not cost them the game, and it is the Hoosiers’ offensive performance that should be lauded. Driven by an aggressive approach that produced 37 shots at the rim, Indiana scored 1.17 points per trip – the highest output surrendered by Wisconsin all season.
The Hoosiers shot only 36 percent on jump shots, but their overwhelming number of dunks and layups won the day. Ferrell, Robinson, and Will Sheehey led this aggressive attack, combining to shoot 17-for-27 on dunks and layups.
For Wisconsin, this could be a bit of a wake-up call for its defense. Before the season, we figured that the Badgers would have a fantastic offense and a permissive defense. That still doesn’t seem to be true, but Wisconsin’s defense is maybe a bit more of an Achilles’ heel than it previously appeared. Indiana does not have a good offense, and it’s not like the Hoosiers went crazy on jump shots to post their big number on the Badgers. Wisconsin’s interior defense does have some holes, but it could just be that Indiana’s ultra-aggressive approach is well-suited to exploit that.
Watch Hoosiers react to big upset win:
Elsewhere, Michigan kept Penn State at arm’s length in a 13-point win. We’ve expressed concern about Michigan’s defense, especially in the absence of Mitch McGary, and this game did little to quell those concerns. The Nittany Lions shot 62 percent on twos en route to 1.12 points per possession. If Penn State hadn’t been ice cold from three (5-for-19, 26 percent), this would have been a close game.
Of course, for every concern with the Wolverines’ defense, there’s equal plaudits for the Michigan offense. No longer carrying a big man that demands post touches, the Wolverines have gone full-Beilein, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Michigan made shots from all over the floor and turned it over just six times, fueling an output north of 1.3 points per possession.
It’s an unlikely thing to lose Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, and Mitch McGary and still sport an elite offense, but Michigan has pulled it off. Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have settled into higher usage roles beautifully, and Derrick Walton is having a great season for a freshman point guard.
Tonight brings an interesting doubleheader on BTN. First, Michigan State visits a Northwestern team fresh off its first conference win. In the nightcap, Illinois tries to right the ship with a hosting of Purdue. Big Ten leading scorer Rayvonte Rice is considered a game-time decision.