It’s been discussed year after year. IU can’t win in Madison, Wisconsin.
IU Coach Tom Crean hasn’t been able to do it. Kelvin Sampson and Mike Davis didn’t either. Bob Knight didn’t in his last two seasons.
IU hasn’t won in the Kohl Center since its first time there: Jan. 25, 1998.
In the 18 years since, Bo Ryan has been the man to task the Hoosiers 11 times. He was often kryptonite for Crean’s teams in Madison, even when IU was the higher-rated opponent.
There was plenty of drama along the way. Crean was ejected against Wisconsin in 2010. There was the 2013 awkwardly short handshake between the two coaches, and the time Ryan called Crean out for caring too much about a Big Ten Player of the Week award.
And despite all the buildup between Crean and Ryan, that hurdle is one Crean and company will never be able to fully leap. Ryan retired in December 2015.
Now, IU and Crean will be looking to finally win at Wisconsin, but against new coach Greg Gard.
During a week in which people are writing grand-scale pieces on how Crean is changing his ways and it’s resulting in great success — and it is — Crean will have another true test of proving this growth by defeating a rookie head coach in as tough of a place as any.
I keep trying to spot the games that could trip the Hoosiers up. Maybe it will be Michigan on Feb. 2. But on the road against Wisconsin is as good of a test as any.
They’ve lost to teams such as Milwaukee and Northwestern, but they’ve defeated Michigan State and Syracuse. They have a record deserving of a ranking in the 100’s, but KenPom.com has them rated as the No. 59 team in the country.
Needless to say, Wisconsin is hard to figure out.
I look at the tough, gritty 59-58 win against Wisconsin three weeks ago as the real launch to the dominant basketball IU has been playing lately. It was proof the team could win ugly.
And the way Wisconsin plays basketball is to ensure the opponent makes more mistakes than it usually does. The Badgers are fourth in the Big Ten in turnover percentage and have the best defensive steal percentage.
This becomes interesting because IU has been playing dominantly, and costly mistakes have been rare. But with the pace and aggressiveness with which IU plays, turnovers are always going to be a cost of doing business to some extent.
As I’ve mentioned, Crean has been making the team run sideline sprints when it turns the ball over too much. Priority number one has often been combining passing wisely and passing accurately.
But will Wisconsin be the matchup to make IU start messing up a little more?
When one combines the matchup with the struggles in the Kohl Center, it can be easy to foresee a loss here.