Indiana will try to stop two-game slide against Wisconsin

Hoosiers coach Tom Crean says he doesn't want his players trying too hard in the wake of their two recent losses.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Not long ago, the Indiana Hoosiers were off to a promising start, burying opponents with a barrage of 3-pointers and ascending to a No. 3 ranking.

Now coach Tom Crean’s team is teetering on the brink of being unranked after back-to-back losses, including a 77-62 dose of humble pie served by No. 6 Louisville in Saturday’s Countdown Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The loss before could potentially loom larger, considering it was an 87-84 home setback to Nebraska in the Big Ten opener. The Hoosiers (10-4, 0-1) can ill afford to stumble in conference again Tuesday when No. 13 Wisconsin (12-2, 1-0) brings an eight-game winning streak to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Indiana’s issues start on the defensive end, although facing stingy defenses has been a problem, too. Wisconsin has always prided itself on defense and playing a controlled half-court game.

The Badgers are allowing just 58.8 points per game, or 27.7 fewer than the Hoosiers are scoring. Indiana is giving up 68.3 points per game and Wisconsin is averaging 77.6.

“My biggest thing, I don’t want them trying too hard,” Crean said after the loss to Louisville. “I mean, we’ve got a group of guys who are going to be back in the gym and trying to work their way out of it. There’s a time and a place for that. We haven’t had a good week.”

First-year Badgers coach Greg Gard has his team playing well. Wisconsin opened conference play with a 72-52 home win over Rutgers.

“We’ve gotten better,” Gard said. “I don’t think we’re where we need to be. I think we can be more consistent, specifically from guys that are coming in off the bench. That’s one area that I’d like to continue to see growth.

“There are little things here and there, we can become more efficient for longer stretches of the game.”

Both teams have lost twice to ranked opponents. Wisconsin’s last loss was more than a month ago, 71-56 to No. 4 North Carolina on Nov. 23 in Hawaii. One of Indiana’s most impressive wins was a 76-67 home victory over the then-No. 3 Tar Heels.

The Hoosiers have hit 55 more 3-pointers than the opposition. When they’re hot, they look unbeatable. Junior guard James Blackmon Jr. averages a team-high 17.3 points and has hit 41 of 94 3-pointers (.436).

Junior guard Robert Johnson was the team’s hottest shooter a week ago but quickly went cold with a 1-of-13 game against the Cardinals. Johnson averages 13.8 points and has hit 32 of 77 3-pointers (.416).

The Badgers’ 115 3-pointers are 17 fewer than the Hoosiers’ total, but Wisconsin shares the ball well to produce points. Senior guard Bronson Koenig averages 14.1 points, senior forward Nigel Hayes is at 14.0 and sophomore forward Ethan Haps is at 12.7.

Hayes scored a game-high 20 points against Rutgers and senior guard Zak Showalter, an 8.1-point scorer, had 18.

“We really don’t hold the ball,” Hayes said. “It’s kind of like, we just move it around and when you get out of position then we score on you. We can play up and down, we think we’ve shown that earlier in non-conference.

“It’s not that we play slow or that we want to play slow, we just try and take good shots. Good shots lead you to high-percentage shots, more chance that the ball goes in. Some other teams that we play against have a different motto, maybe more shots equals more opportunities, more points. We go better shots equals more points.”