Big Ten Basketball: Wisconsin solidifies standing as Big Ten favorite

Wisconsin basketball begins their quest for a Big Ten basketball title with a 2-0 record in league play.

13 WisconsinBadgers

75

25 IndianaHoosiers

68

Coming into the 2016-17 campaign, the thought surrounding the Big Ten was that Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Michigan State were set to battle for the conference’s regular season title.

Through one week of conference play, that certainly won’t be the case.

Instead, Wisconsin has solidified themselves as the clear cut favorite and the team to beat in the Big Ten. The Badgers are now 2-0 in league play after a big road win Tuesday night over the 25th ranked Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington, 75-68.

The Badgers were led by Ethan Happ, who scored 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. Bronson Koenig battled foul trouble in the first half, but he scored 17 points and hit 5-of-5 threes. Meanwhile, Zac Showalter put up 14 points and Nigel Hayes (even though it wasn’t his best outing) added 10 on 4-of-11 shooting.

The Badgers jumped out to a 10-0 lead from the get-go. While the Hoosiers battled back (they trailed by one at the break and took the lead with 7:06 remaining in the game), Wisconsin’s efficiency, high IQ and tremendous defense was too much for Tom Crean’s team to match.

Wisconsin shot 50 percent from the field overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc. They got any shot they wanted for a majority of the first half and were knocking down their open trifectas.

Most importantly, Happ went to work on the block against whoever opted to guard him. The Hoosiers tried Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis, and none of the three were any match for the sophomore’s footwork, awareness and elite vision. When the Badgers needed a bucket late in the game, they ran the offense through Happ, letting him operate on the block to help free up open shots on the perimeter.

In addition to their great shooting percentages and Happ’s play, Wisconsin only turned the ball over seven times. The Badgers have averaged an uncharacteristic 12 giveaways this year, but against the Hoosiers’ non-existent (at times) defense, Wisconsin didn’t seem to have any issues.

But it wasn’t just Wisconsin’s offense that was superb: Their defense also shut down Indiana’s attack.

The Hoosiers shot 53 percent from the field overall, but Greg Gard’s unit held them to 68 points, forced them to shoot only 33 percent from three and limited OG Anunoby to just nine points.

The Badgers aren’t flashy and don’t have the athleticism of some of the other top teams in the country. However, we tend to forget that they brought everyone of significance back from a team that made the Sweet 16 and beat Xavier in the NCAA Tournament last season. They’ve only lost two games this season (North Carolina and Creighton) and have beaten solid teams like Tennessee, Georgetown, Oklahoma, Marquette and now Indiana.

They must travel to Purdue on Sunday, but is there really any team that can challenge the Badgers atop the league standings? The Boilermakers may have a shot and Michigan State is 2-0, however, it’s highly unlikely given the way Wisconsin has played during their nine game winning streak.

Hayes had one of his poorest games of his season (he took some really bad shots), yet they still pulled out a victory in one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten.

Meanwhile, Indiana is trending downwards. They’ve lost three straight games, including two home games in the Big Ten, and have issues on both sides of the ball.

Their defense is non-existent at times and they tend to over help. On offense, they turn the basketball over way too much, don’t have a true point guard and lack a shot creator in the half court. If they aren’t knocking down threes or scoring in transition, the Hoosiers are very beatable.

This loss against Wisconsin is not overly concerning, but the disaster against Nebraska combined with their ugly loss against Louisville doesn’t help their case.

The good news is that Indiana started slow in the Big Ten last season and still turned the corner to win the league. That is unlikely to happen in 2016-17, but let’s not give up on a team that has talented players like Anunoby, James Blackmon Jr. and Bryant on their roster.

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