Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 6:00 AM
With all the talk about the “one-and-done” guys that were going to dominate college hoops this season on their way to the NBA, you didn’t hear much about the players at Wisconsin. The Badgers are thought of more as a “system” school that plays great defense, works the ball around slowly for a good shot, the exact opposite of what’s supposed to appeal to superstar teenagers.
As a result, the media took too long to notice a team that’s now 16-0 this season and making a run at the #1 ranking in the country! That’s part of the prelude to Tuesday Night’s showdown between Wisconsin and Indiana that will be nationally televised by ESPN. The other part? Indiana has fallen so far off the college basketball map that they may not even make the Big Dance this season! Can Wisconsin dodge a bullet fired by a team that’s desperate to get things moving in the right direction? Or, are the Badgers so good that this game is already over?
Wisconsin: #2 in Pomeroy, #2 in Sagarin
Indiana: #60 in Pomeroy, #53 in Sagarin
Wisconsin is certainly very good. It’s true that they haven’t played a lot of tough road games yet (only at Wisconsin-Green Bay, at Virginia, and at Northwestern). But, the computers do their best to adjust for strength of schedule issues. Both Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin has the Badgers nipping at the heels of the #1 Arizona Wildcats. Indiana is a bubble team at best given that usually about the top 50 are safe for inclusion in the March brackets. A big scalp here, and Indiana will move to the right side of the bubble.
Offensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)
It’s easy to miss out on how effective Wisconsin is offensively because they play at such a slow tempo. Teams who work for good shots will be celebrated by the media for defense and blasted for poor offense because TV announcers glance at the scoreboard without thinking through the process. This season, Wisconsin has a fantastic offense on a per-possession basis. Truly elite. Indiana’s offense is much worse than people realize because they push tempo. Stick them in the halfcourt, and it gets ugly fast.
Defensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)
Wisconsin is playing legitimate defense too. Even within a slow pace…they’re guarding the basket and denying good looks. Maybe their rankings on both sides of the ball will fade once they face more Big 10 powers. For now they’ve clearly established superiority to the class of opponent they’ve been facing. Indiana’s strength has been its defense…to the degree there’s a “strength” on a team this disappointing.
Here’s what we mean about pace. Wisconsin is slow as molasses. Indiana has been playing racehorse basketball this year because they’re so bad in the halfcourt. It’s the only way they can get open looks. If Wisconsin can force a slow pace on the game, then it probably is already over. Indiana is horrible at Wisconsin’s pace. But, as you regular readers know, it’s often the HOME team that is able to impose its pace on a game. If Indiana can lure Wisconsin into sloppy racehorse basketball, things could get interesting.
Against the Spread
Wisconsin didn’t just catch the media napping. They caught oddsmakers napping too. The Badgers have covered better than two-thirds of their board game so far, and eight of their last 10 during a very nice run. The market knew Indiana lost a lot of talent from last year, and has generally been in the right neighborhood with Hoosiers’ games.
Will it be another Badgers blowout? Or, with the home dog start working its way back into Big Dance discussions with a signature win? JIM HURLEY has studied the whole Tuesday card. This TV showdown could easily show up when the final picks are posted Tuesday morning. Other games under consideration include Kentucky/Arkansas, Butler/Creighton, Pittsburgh/Georgia Tech. Once the BEST BETS go up, you can purchase them with your credit card right here at the website.
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Back with you tomorrow for a stat preview of Georgetown/Xavier in the new-look Big East. Thursday we’ll cover the huge Ohio State/Minnesota game in the Big 10. After that, it’s the AFC and NFC Conference championships this weekend featuring New England at Denver and San Francisco at Seattle.
Another big sports week…be sure you’re getting all the BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!