The only sad news for the Wisconsin basketball team, is that February is coming to an end. The Badgers are blazing; since the first of the month they have tallied five consecutive Big Ten victories, tying them with Nebraska for the conference’s longest active streak.
Tonight the Badgers take on Indiana inside the Kohl Center. On Jan. 14, Wisconsin’s season was turned upside down after Indiana snapped the Badgers’ 16-game win streak. UW wants this one; Bo Ryan and his crew have looked to avenge their loss for over a month now. Along with putting the Hoosiers back in their place, a victory would ascend the Badgers further up the Big Ten win column.
Wisconsin is right on the heels of both Michigan and Michigan State. With a much easier schedule in March, the Badgers have potential to win out for the remainder of the regular season.
Winning always sounds good, but remember last month? This time around, the Badgers cannot become carried away in the hype. There’s plenty of basketball yet to be played.
To deal with the pressure, Bo may want to take a page out of Brett Bielema’s book. Bringing up the old coach may leave Badger fans cringing, but this mentality of “1-0” every game has to be enforced. From here on out, Wisconsin must focus on the task at hand.
Next up is Indiana, a school who hasn’t had the greatest month of February. Their record has fallen apart as well as their stadium. Last Tuesday, an 8-foot piece of metal fell from the ceiling of Assembly Hall destroying lower seating. A distraction like this could benefit the Badgers.
I believe there are two major match-ups that will determine the Badger’s success tonight. If Wisconsin can win these, they shouldn’t have any problems against the Hoosiers.
Nigel Hayes vs. Noah Vonleh
The Big Ten’s freshman of the year will be between these two forwards. In fact, the winner may be decided by this game. Both of them have been named Big Ten’s “Freshman of the Week” four times, and have made major contributions to their team’s success.
Statistically, the edge has to go to Vonleh who nearly averages a double-double. In Hayes’ defense, Vonleh plays eight more minutes than the Badger.
Now if the Big Ten weighs heavily on team success, Hayes has Vonleh beat. Nigel has been an intricate part of the Badger’s latest win streak. You can’t ignore how great the Badgers have been, the added attention will favor Nigel’s chances.
Nigel was quiet in last month’s game. He scored six points and grabbed a pair of rebounds. More importantly, he shot just one free throw.
Expect Hayes to be aggressive tonight especially if Vonleh is guarding him. Wisconsin would love it if Vonleh is tagged with multiple fouls early. Vonleh established defensively with four rejections on Jan. 14. Forcing him to the bench would open the flood gates for Wisconsin’s big men.
Yogi Ferrel vs. whoever guards him
Yogi was responsible for a third of Indiana’s points when they defeated the Badgers. After an early benching in the first half, Ferrel would bounce back by scoring 18 of his 25 after intermission.
Since Indiana has two guards who stand six feet tall, Bo Ryan will have options as to who he should have guard Ferrel. Over the past month Ryan has trusted Josh Gasser to guard top scorers.
However, Bo wont have this luxury tonight. Gasser will have to guard either Will Sheehey or Troy Williams who are both 6-foot-7. Guards Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson will have to step up to contain Ferrel.
Ferrel feeds off crowd energy. Wisconsin will need an abundance of noise from the Kohl Center tonight. Yogi can become turnover-prone at times, so Wisconsin should add pressure to cause havoc. Once Ferrel and the Hoosier’s offense losses sync, Wisconsin should be able to pull ahead, and ride out a victory.