staff, January 27, 2012

Indiana was looking like they had turned a corner, building a small lead at the Kohl Center early in the second half. As has happened lately to Tom Crean's bunch, things fell apart and Wisconsin picked up yet another B1G victory. Let's look at how it happened.

Indiana had defended well all game, and the Hoosiers held a five point lead with just over 14 minutes remaining. Down the stretch, however, Indiana's defensive woes returned with a vengeance, as Wisconsin poured in 28 points over the final 14 minutes (spanning just 20 possessions) to pull out the victory.

So what changed? The most obvious event was Cody Zeller going to the bench with his third foul. Immediately, the lane became a hospitable place for the Badgers to attack, and by the time Zeller had returned, the lead had vanished and Wisconsin had all the momentum. Look at how the game changed at the 14 minute point when Zeller went to the bench (table shows points per possession):

First 34 poss Last 20 poss
Indiana 1.00 0.80
Wisconsin 0.85 1.40

Even with Wisconsin scoring so well, the Hoosiers had their chances to win this game. Over the final two minutes, Indiana had three chances to secure a defensive rebound to give themselves a chance to tie or take the lead. All three times, the Badgers got to the carom instead. The resulting free throws allowed Wisconsin to salt the game away.

This loss puts the Hoosiers at 4-5 in the conference, and after this weekend's hosting of Iowa they face two tough road games at Michigan and Purdue. Indiana is still a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament–with its nonconference resume, even 9-9 in B1G play would be plenty–but fans have good reason to be concerned with the season's trajectory. Even in a game where their defense was mostly good, it just wasn't good enough down the stretch to win.

Wisconsin has now won five straight and is back in the thick of the Big Ten race. Next weekend's hosting of Ohio State is looking like a huge game, assuming the Badgers take care of business on Tuesday at Penn State. Wisconsin fans can feel encouraged that their team knocked off the Hoosiers while shooting just 24 percent from three.

Nebraska picked up a road win at Iowa with an outstanding offensive performance. The 1.28 points per trip scored by Nebraska is the second highest output allowed by the Hawkeyes all season–only Michigan State has scored better on Iowa. Since returning to full health, the Huskers have played more like the solid NIT-level team we expected them to be. Brandon Richardson was magnificent, posting 25 points, six rebounds, five assists, and just one turnover.

Notice should now be served that Nebraska is not going to be an easy out this season, especially in Lincoln. With home games remaining against Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois, the Huskers can play spoiler for a few of their new conference mates.

Wednesday's games had the expected results, with Ohio State and Michigan State rolling at home over Penn State and Minnesota, respectively. The latter game was notable as a milestone win for Tom Izzo, his 400th at Michigan State. His team put on a impressive defensive display to get it, holding the Gophers to their lowest output of the season.

As for the Buckeyes, it feels like we haven't been talking about them much lately. That's mostly because Thad Matta's team has spent most of the past month blowing out the bottom of the conference. Things should get considerably more interesting the rest of the way, as Ohio State faces nothing but tournament hopefuls in its remaining 10 games. It starts this weekend with a hosting of Michigan.

Saturday brings us two bubble battles, as teams that could really use a win face off. At 3pm CT, Purdue visits Northwestern (ESPN2), followed by the 7pm CT tip of Illinois at Minnesota (BTN). These both figure to be toss-up type games, with KenPom's ratings predicting a two-point Minnesota win and a one-point Northwestern win. It should make for a fun Saturday of hoops.