Nobody on the roster was around for the Badgers’ last title in 2008, but they’ve been close since then. Almost painfully close for seniors Josh Gasser and Frank ?Kaminsky.
Their senior class was there when the Badgers fell short to Michigan last year. The season before was IU. Three years ago it was a three-way tie between Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State.
Wisconsin’s current senior class is 98-32 in its time in Madison, Wis., but a championship has alluded them. This being their last chance, they know their time is running out.
IU (16-6, 6-3) heads to the Kohl Center today for a 7 p.m. matchup with the No. 5 Badgers (19-2, 7-1), who now sit alone atop the Big Ten ?standings.
The Hoosiers will play a Badger team that claims it hasn’t hit its potential yet, which may be bad news for the rest of the Big Ten. Gasser said Saturday that they’re hungry, too. After seeing five other teams claim the Big Ten Championship during the last three seasons, his senior class wants one of its own.
“None of us have won a (Big Ten) championship,” Gasser said after beating Iowa on Saturday. “It was great making the Final Four last year, but so what? We can’t improve on that right now. This is the Big Ten season, and that’s what our ?focus is on.”
That puts Wisconsin’s focus squarely on an IU team looking for its first win in Madison since 1998. The Hoosiers have lost 12 consecutive games at the Badgers’ place.
Of those 12 losses, only four have been by seven or fewer points. Seven were by at least 11 points, including a 69-58 loss to Wisconsin last season.
The Badgers haven’t looked back since blowing a double-digit halftime lead at Rutgers. Since that loss, Wisconsin has won four straight games, three times by double digits and once in an overtime win on the road against Michigan.
Wisconsin has done most of its damage on defense, where it allows a Big Ten-leading 55.5 points per game. That’s 5.7 points per game fewer than No. 2 Nebraska and a full 16.5 points per game better than IU.
Immediately following IU’s win against Rutgers, IU Coach Tom Crean was asked about Wisconsin. He hadn’t fully began preparing for the Badgers, but he did offer a quick diagnosis that reflected just how highly respected they are.
“They are unbelievably good,” Crean said.
To fight with Wisconsin’s top-ranked defense, IU will need to avoid letting the defensive miscues that led to losses against Ohio State and Purdue get in the way.
Some of those brief defensive lapses appeared in IU’s 8-point win against Rutgers, but down the stretch the defense was able to get the stops it needed.
IU knows it will need to play a complete game against a team of Wisconsin’s caliber. IU is 4-1 against ranked opponents this season, but the one loss came against Louisville in ?New York City.
Wisconsin may have championship goals in mind, but freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. said IU is nowhere near settling either.
The Hoosiers are in a five-way tie for second place, and a win for them would go a long way toward solidifying their NCAA Tournament ?resume.
“At Wisconsin, we know that it’s going to be a great environment and a huge game,” freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. said. “I think we’re going to come prepared for it.”