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January 13, 2014

Road warriors: Badgers prep for IU





MADISON, Wis. - The Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion roared with piped-in crowd noise on Sunday night as the No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers squeezed in one more practice before hitting the road. It was a departure from the norm, to say the least.

Football teams are more likely to practice with crowd noise before road games, but Bo Ryan apparently felt his team needed to get used to playing amidst a dull roar again before they take on the Indiana Hoosiers on Tuesday night in Bloomington. Because while the Resch Center and John Paul Jones Arena have their charms, Indiana's Assembly Hall is a different animal.

Rated as one of the loudest venues in college basketball, Assembly Hall gives Indiana one of the best-home court advantages in the nation. The Hoosiers have won 83 percent of their home games since the building opened in 1971, including a 287-75 record in conference games.

Indiana boasts a 51-27 all-time edge over the Badgers in Bloomington, but it's been nearly seven years since the Hoosiers last beat UW on their home floor. In fact the Badgers currently hold a 12-game winning streak over the Hoosiers, who have never lost to an opponent 13 times in a row.

After losing so many games in a row it would be undoubtedly sweet for the Hoosiers if they beat the Badgers on Tuesday night, however some UW players seem to relish their roles as the "bad guys" when they make the trip down to Bloomington, where they have outscored the Hoosiers 71-57.8 during their last five trips.

"It's a lot of fun," junior guard Josh Gasser said. "It's fun to go in to an environment where the only people on your side are the people on the bench and the people on the court with you. It's pretty much just our tight-knit group against everyone else in the building."

Gasser couldn't identify an underlying reason why the Badgers have had so much success against the Hoosiers over the last few years, other than good preparation from Ryan and the other assistant coaches. But part of their success over the last few years has to be credited to their work on the glass, where they have kept the Hoosiers from dominating- especially on the offensive glass.

The Hoosiers have outrebounded the Badgers 46-42 on the offensive end over their last five games in Bloomington- a solid but unspectacular margin. Keeping the rebounding battle close has helped the Badgers keep Indiana from netting too many second chance points, which will be doubly important on Tuesday night. The Hoosiers are currently first in the Big Ten and eighth in the country in offensive rebounding, pulling down an average of 14.9 per game.

"That'll be a deciding factor in the game- who does well on the glass," junior guard Traevon Jackson said. "Those second chance points are big in terms of [Indiana] getting kick outs and put backs. With that length we need to do a good job of boxing out on the first shot and limit them to one possession at a time."

Through 16 games the Hoosiers are averaging 1.1 points per possession, which ranks 84th in the nation and seventh in the Big Ten. But that number will go up if the Badgers can't keep the Hoosiers to one shot per possession- even with a more diverse offense Wisconsin still limits their opponents to 64.4 possessions per game. Giving the Hoosiers or any other opponent more chances to score on fewer possessions is a recipe for trouble, even if UW can keep their opponents shooting at a 40 percent clip or lower.

Just like in years past the Badgers know that they need wins on the road over teams like Indiana to stay in the hunt for a Big Ten championship. Only this time around the Badgers will be the hunted rather than the hunters: last year's game in Bloomington featured the No. 2 Hoosiers against an unranked Wisconsin team, whereas the Badgers moved up to No. 3 in the AP poll on Monday and Indiana didn't receive a vote for the fifth-straight week.

You wouldn't know it from the way the UW players talked about their upcoming game, though. The Badgers looked impressive in Big Ten wins over Northwestern, Iowa and Illinois, but another win over the Hoosiers on the road might mean a little more to a team that doesn't think they have peaked yet.

"To stay in the race for the conference championship you need to win road games," Jackson said. "Everybody in the Big Ten knows that. Why not start off with a big bang at Indiana?"

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.


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